COVID-19 is the backdrop of AACC’s annual meeting

Oct. 26, 2021

The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) held its Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo “live” in Atlanta in late September.

Despite the pleasant weather (warm, sunny, and not too humid) and a clean and airy convention hall, the COVID-19 pandemic hung over the proceedings. To get inside, attendees needed not only proof of vaccination but also a negative result from a COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours. Diagnostic test manufacturers provided both on-site testing services (LumiraDx) and self-administered tests for attendees to use after returning home (Quidel).

Despite those precautions, attendance was noticeably less than in previous years. Educational sessions, even the plenary sessions, had plenty of extra seats. In the exhibit hall, there was ample room to walk around, and I saw staff members in exhibitors’ booths hanging out alone.

COVID-19 also dominated the formal and informal conversations. Here are a few examples:

  • In a plenary speech, Margaret Liu, MD, Chairperson of the Board of the International Society of Vaccines and CEO of Pax Therapeutics, said that it is important to fight SARS-CoV-2 using a proactive and coordinated approach globally. That means achieving high rates of vaccination in all countries and following safety measures because these actions will suppress new viral variants of SARS-CoV-2. However, the current global response to the pandemic has been just the opposite, she said, comparing it to the board game Whac-A-Mole. “This is something we do with the influenza vaccine. We look at what is popping up,” she said.

Speaking about COVID-19 vaccines specifically, Liu said, “I don’t think we should despair too much when we read about neutralizing antibodies declining because it doesn’t necessarily correlate with protection.” In addition, to antibody titers, the current COVID-19 vaccines also induce “helper” T-cells, which assist other immune cells, and cytotoxic T cells, which shutdown infected cells, she noted. 

  • Numerous other attendees that we talked with discussed serology tests that detect antibodies produced in response to COVID-19. The issue: scientists do not know what level of antibodies equates to adequate protection. “My levels may go down but could still be good,” noted Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP) SLS, CQA(ASQ), aka Dan the Lab Safety Man and Laboratory Safety Officer at Sentara Healthcare.
  • Jon Harol, President of Lighthouse Lab Services, discussed the Biden Administration’s plan to require businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate either vaccination or weekly testing, which is expected to impact about 100 million employees. Harol questioned whether the U.S. has enough rapid tests to meet this requirement. At present, about 56% of the population is fully vaccinated, including about 68% of people 18 years old or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the mandate likely would lead many unvaccinated employees to become vaccinated, a significant number of employees would likely choose weekly testing, Harol predicted.

I hope that the AACC’s meeting in 2022 ends up with its usual level of turnout for many reasons. Of course, the most important reason is that robust attendance would likely mean that we’ve finally made significant progress against SARS-CoV-2.

I welcome your comments, questions, and opinions – please send them to me at [email protected]