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The Impact of COVID-19 in the Context of Society and Biology

Date Mon, Jan 11
Time 12: 00 PM - 2: 00 PM
Location Zoom

The seminar is co-convened by Sonia M. Suter, The Kahan Family Research Professor of Law; Founding Director, Health Law Initiative at The George Washington University School of Law. 

The panel will discuss:

  • What makes COVID-19 more dangerous for some individuals and communities than others?
  • What does it mean when viruses mutate?
  • What are some of the reasons we see population differences in illness?
  • What social and biological factors are important?
  • What is it like participating in a vaccine trial?
  • What is the role of history in research participation?

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fatal consequences of the long-standing social and racial inequity in the United States. It is clear that essential workers, persons with chronic conditions, and households living near or below the poverty line are at increased risk of contracting, spreading, and dying from the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It is also clear that members of Black, Latinx, Native American, immigrant, and other underrepresented minority groups are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic medically, socially, and economically. Unlike previous economic recessions, the COVID-19 crisis-driven economic downturn is more devastating for the bottom 25th percentile compared to the top 25th percentile in all groups. Genetics and other biological factors are reported to play a role in susceptibility to COVID-19, but less is known about these forces compared to societal contributors. The global reach of COVID-19 has revealed sharp contrasts and inequities in susceptibility and response to the pandemic. Amid global concerns about discrimination, stigma, differences in access to care and health outcomes, it is critical to understand the social and biological contributors to health outcomes and to place them in context. Invited panelists will offer their perspectives on the current understanding of the socio-political, economic and biological factors underlying community and individual susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, morbidity and mortality.


Dr. Charles Rotimi
NIH Distinguished Investigator
President-Elect, American Society of Human Genetics
Director, Trans-NIH Center for Research on Genomics


Dr. Dayna Matthew
Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School
A leader in public health and civil rights law, she previously served as a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, where she co-founded and directed The UVA Equity Center. Matthew also served as professor and vice dean at the University of Colorado Law School. She was Special Council to the Office of Civil Rights at the EPA and worked on US Senator Debbie Stabenow’s health policy team. Matthew is author of Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.

Dr. Christian Happi
Director of the World Bank-funded African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID), Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics, and the former Dean of the College of Postgraduate Studies at Redeemer’s University, Nigeria
He completed his PhD at the University of Ibadan, and his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, School of Public Health. He received the Merle A. Sande Health Leadership Award in 2011; the 2016 Award of Excellence in Research, by the Committee of Vice- Chancellors of Nigerian Universities; and the 2019 Human Genome Organization (HUGO) Africa Prize for his seminal work on infectious diseases genomics in Africa, including Ebola and Lassa fever.

Dr. Chris T. Pernell
Dynamic physician leader and social change agent
In her public health practice, she concentrates on health justice, community-based advocacy, and population-wide health promotion and disease prevention. Recently, she joined University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey as the first-ever Chief Strategic Integration and Health Equity Officer. In her role she oversees a portfolio which includes Population Health, Strategic Planning, Community Affairs, and the Human Experience. Dr. Pernell graduated from Princeton University before attending Duke University School of Medicine. She received her Master of Public Health from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and completed the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health General Preventive Medicine Residency. Dr. Pernell is a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine and holds an appointment as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

This event is hosted by The George Washington University Law School and the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH.

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