The 2021 American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology Virtual Annual Meeting was definitely one for the history books. The cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting last year was for many of us the first realization of the potential impact of the just then emerging COVID-19 pandemic. What a year this has been for so many across the globe. We have learned a lot this last year and perseverance and flexibility have become major themes in how we deliver health care and continue to learn. The AAAAI turned this year’s annual meeting into an amazing virtual event.
Allergists, immunologists, and others in our field gathered across the world to learn together. From numerous prerecorded options that could be accessed at your leisure to four full days of presentations streamed live. I love that my colleagues in Colorado, Philadelphia, and San Diego could participate together in a session, while I was in Alaska listening to them. It was not a surprise that a meeting of this size would have some technical challenges, but overall the conference was an amazing feat of technology. I did find the time difference a little challenging being in Alaska, but it was much worse for many of our international colleagues. Another unique feature of this year's meeting was that all of the sessions are recorded and will be available for a full year. The amount of CME credits available to the attendee is unprecedented.
The major themes this year were around new and emerging therapies in our field. We have come a long way from the one biologic that came out why I was still a fellow to the multiple biologics across multiple diseases. We also got a glimpse at biologics that are still being studied in the lab to those already available and learning how to apply them to patient care. There were great discussions on the comparison of guidelines from the Global Initiative for Asthma versus those for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and how we care for our patients with asthma. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the challenges with trying to prescribe based on the updated guidelines when insurance plans have not caught up. There were Year-in-Review sessions from both the JACI and the JACI In Practice. These are great opportunities to review the best articles from these publications from the past year. There were updates on food allergies including oral immunotherapy, Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome, and a great discussion on Friday on venom allergies. Mast cell disease continues to be an interest of mine and multiple sessions were addressing this theme.
Pertinent to our current real-world situation, there were numerous sessions devoted to COVID-19. Sessions covered COVID-19 infection in our patient population, treatments, and vaccine development and research. The AAAAI Regional State and Local Allergy Asthma and Immunology Societies Business Meeting and Forum on Sunday included very helpful sessions on ongoing COVID-19 challenges and safely resuming or increasing office procedures and a discussion on the role of telemedicine going forward. The interest sections prerecorded their forums this year, and Health Education Delivery and Quality tackled the very important issue of actionable ways to improve wellness for allergy/immunology clinicians.
While it was quite a different experience spending the weekend in my own home, in front of a computer, it was a very valuable experience. I, like many others, have a long list of additional sessions I plan to go back and listen to over the next few weeks to months. While we all hope to gather together next year in Phoenix, one has to question what the future of medical education meetings is going to look like. Maybe a hybrid with in-person opportunities to be together but now with the ability to join in virtually from all over the world and continue to have access to content throughout the year. As we already have been doing over the last year, we will learn as we go.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz