Harvard and Yale Health Law Centers team up for COVID-19 seminar series

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the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is partnering with its Yale Law School counterpart, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, to host a series of seminars on ethical and legal issues raised last year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seminar series, titled “COVID-19 and the Law: Disruption, Impact and Legacy”, will begin on Tuesday February 2 with Legacy of COVID-19 and Evolving Legal Doctrines.

Each year, the Petrie-Flom Center hosts an annual conference, which brings together academics to work on a particular topic of health policy or bioethics with the aim of publish a book with a large academic press. This year, COVID-19 has forced a pivot in both format and topic, explained Carmel Shachar JD / MPH ’10, general manager of the Petrie-Flom Center.

“For this year, no topic other than COVID-19 made sense – it was the 800 pounds. gorilla in public health and health care in the past year. We wanted to bring together an interdisciplinary group of academics to take one of the first truly in-depth looks at how COVID-19 has changed our world. What lessons can we learn from the first year of the pandemic? How can we be better prepared for the future? Shachar said.

Katherine L. Kraschel ’12, executive director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, described the partnership between the two institutions as a natural complementarity.

“A series of seminars and a book project in partnership with the Petrie-Flom Center was a very organic way to leverage the expertise of our respective centers and generate knowledge about the global health crisis of our time,” said she declared. “And it is a real personal pleasure for me to be associated with my alma mater center where I was a scholarship student.”

Shachar, Kraschel and I. Glenn Cohen ’03, Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center and Associate Dean and Professor of Law James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams, provided an overview of the seminar series via email.


Harvard Law Today: Can you describe the impetus behind this series of seminars? Why have the Salomon Center and the Petrie-Flom Center teamed up to present this series?

I. Glenn Cohen: I have been teaching health law and bioethics for almost 15 years now, and never before have I seen so much interest, from students, the press, policymakers, even from my colleagues in fields as diverse as bankruptcy and employment law, to learn more about the law in my field in order to understand how COVID-19 is reshaping everything. We also live in an information overload world where it is really important to be able to cut through the noise and have clear but digestible views on the subject. These twin goals motivated us to work with the Solomon Center to organize a series that will provide the expertise needed to shape policies in the short, medium and long term.

HLT: The first seminar in this series focuses on evolving legal doctrines. Thinking back to the past 10 months, what do you think are the most significant legal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you think these changes will last beyond the duration of the pandemic? In your opinion, which legal impacts are important, but neglected?

Carmel Shachar: I think for years public health law has been seen as a bit lost in the same way that our policy makers have focused more on health care than on public health. The professor I studied public health law with used to joke that it was really “Light of Constitutional Law”. The pandemic has brought new attention to this area of ​​law. Jacobson v. MY is one of the founding cases in public health and it dates back to 1905! One of the presenters on this panel will discuss whether Jacobson is still a good law, whether it needs updating, and what we can expect to see in disputes over mask warrants, quarantines and vaccine requirements.

Katherine Kraschel: In some ways, the COVID response looks like the next chapter in healthcare federalism. Particularly with a more proactive Biden administration taking control, issues of federal versus state oversight on things like vaccine administration will only focus more and, I imagine, inform health policy for the future.

HLT: The second speech in the series focuses on health justice issues. Has the law made progress in promoting health justice during the pandemic? If so, in which areas? If not, what are the key priorities and how could lawyers advance them?

Kraschel: There have been outstanding health justice lawyers during the pandemic. One example that immediately comes to mind is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ challenge to FDA restrictions that require the in-person provision of a medical abortion. Their submissions did a remarkable job in focusing the lived experience of people of color accessing health care during the pandemic. While the conservative Supreme Court ultimately sided with the Trump administration in its January opinion and upheld the FDA’s application of the restrictions, Justice Sotomayor’s dissent reflects the emphasis. on reproductive justice in the case of ACOG.

Two of the panelists for this conference will focus on reproductive health care and reproductive justice, and another on changes that, unlike medical abortion, were implemented by the FDA to ease restrictions on provision. methadone for patients with opioid use disorders. I’m interested to hear what they think “stick” in the wake of the pandemic.

Cohen: I often think of the title of Martha Nussbaum’s great book “Frontiers of Justice” and, to me, one of the most disappointing aspects of most health justice talk so far is stubbornness with in which it treats the borders of the territorial state as the appropriate end of the “border”.

For a problem that does not respect borders, we have unfortunately pretended to do so in the policies that we adopt. This is particularly acute with what has been called “vaccine nationalism” – as the Biden administration recently signaled its intention to join the COVAX program, a necessary first step, it is only a first step. There will be thousands of preventable deaths and billions and billions of economic damages that could be avoided if we think about vaccine production and allocation through a more global justice lens.

HLT: Then the series of seminars will focus on the use of biotechnology in the pandemic. This is arguably one of the few promising areas of pandemic response – but should we be concerned about some precedents created here (eg, the use of EUA)? If so, what are your recommendations for future actions? If not why ?

Kraschel: As a scientist in a large pharmaceutical company, it was amazing how quickly a new type of vaccine – using mRNA – was developed and approved. I look forward to hearing what this panel thinks about the incentives that have led to the rapid development and investment of the industry and what the process we are seeing unfolding means for the future of biotech innovation, the access and the role of government in creating incentives. While some panels in the series focus specifically on issues of institutionalized racism and health care disparities, this is part of every panel’s discussion, and I look forward to reviewing the issues raised in the panel as well. context of the distribution and rationing of the vaccines that this group will touch upon.

Cohen: I hope we can also discuss how the public viewed the scientific method “up close and personal” and in real time during COVID-19. I think the amount of medical misinformation over the past year has been staggering. There are also some interesting questions about ‘press release science’, pre-print services, and the successes and failures of peer review that have accompanied much of these hopefully developments. that we can discuss.

HLT: The fourth seminar will focus on disparate charges. In addition to the socio-economic and racial health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic in the United States, what other disparate burdens caused or exacerbated by COVID-19?

Shachar: I think the pandemic has drawn the curtain on a lot of disparities. For example, women have been disproportionately affected by the economic ramifications of COVID-19. We know that more and more women are losing their jobs, which is brutal for families who depend on these incomes to make ends meet. We’ll also see the disparate impact play out over the years with how disruption has unevenly changed children’s lives. Children from families with enough resources to alleviate the effects of quarantine may recover faster than those from low-income families – will these differences still be felt in five or ten years? Throughout their life? This panel is interesting for me because it will take a very thoughtful and broad look at the disparities that are made worse by the pandemic.

HLT: The fifth part will deal with the health system. If you were to sort the U.S. health care system based on the issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, what would be your top health policy priority?

Shachar: Right now, figuring out how to get vaccines into guns is the most pressing issue – we want to achieve collective immunity as quickly as possible and protect our vulnerable people! But I think you really have to take into account how we have underfunded and underfunded our public health infrastructure. It has made us really vulnerable to this pandemic, which is unlikely to be the last global pandemic. How can we rectify this and build resilience in the face of a pandemic?

HLT: What do you think will be the impact of this series? How do you plan to build on the knowledge that comes from these seminars?

Kraschel: As mentioned earlier, this series of seminars will turn into a volume edited with a large academic press. We hope that the book that comes out of this series generates an outstanding scholarship that not only captures and critically analyzes what happened, but also provides thoughtful and provocative visions for the future of the pandemic. I hope our book provides a model of scholarship that will bring the most marginalized and often voiceless into the discussion of a health crisis. I am honored to be able to do this work with such an exceptional editorial team and an exceptional group of contributors to the book.

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