Schedule for the June meeting, “What Have We Learned from COVID?”

We’re excited to announce the schedule of the upcoming meeting of the Christian Scientific Society, to be held from 10 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, June 11, in Thaw Hall, University of Pittsburgh. We have a blue-chip set of Christian medical researchers who have been involved in many aspects of the national response to COVID.  This will be an in-person meeting with simultaneous Zoom webcast.

Note that this is not a “debate” or a “balanced” forum; our speakers all represent the “medical establishment” in one way or another. But ample time will be made for moderated discussion to allow the speakers to respond to honest questions.

There is no charge to attend the meeting  (though donations are welcome, which continue to allows us to offer meetings for free), but advance registration is strictly required in order to be allowed into Pitt’s university buildings. To register, click here.


10:00 AM Dr. Gregory Poland, Mayo Clinic 

“The COVID-19 Pandemic: Infection, Vaccines, Adverse Events and the Circle of Least Confusion”

Abstract: While the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled in a highly kinetic manner, nonetheless data on the risks of infection and the benefits and risks of vaccines were rapidly accumulated and disseminated. Using the metaphor of the circle of least confusion, I will review the risks and benefits of infection versus vaccine as a method to engage in rational decision-making, as well as touch on cognitive biases in decision-making. Finally, I shall put forward the thesis that the Western church failed in its missio ecclesiae in regards to Scriptural imperatives by adopting and accommodating unbiblical cultural and anthropocentric pressures. Possible antidotes to such thinking can include education and catechesis, reformation, and the use of the concepts of explanatory poverty and subversive fulfillment.

Bio: Gregory A. Poland, M.D., FIDSA, MACP, FRCP (London) is Mary Lowell Leary Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Distiguished Investigator of the Mayo Clinic. The Poland lab developed the field of viral vaccine immunogenetics, the immune response network theory, and the field of vaccinomics and adversomics. He has been awarded over $220 million in research funding, and he is the Editor-in-Chief for the journal Vaccine. Among his many awards, responsibilities, and accomplishments, he is the immediate past president of the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Board and the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, served on the Infectious Diseases Society of America Taskforce on Pandemic Influenza, and chaired the American College of Physician’s Adult Immunization Advisory Board; in 2012, Dr. Poland was named in the top 25 list of vaccine influencers in the world.

10:40 Discussion

11:00 AM Dr. Richard Zimmerman, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine 

“COVID-19 Vaccination and Public Health Policy Making: Is it a Duty or an Issue of Conscience?”

Abstract. The field of Bioethics has long debated appropriate uses of technology from a variety of world views. The primary technology to prevent COVID-19 is vaccination, which has become surprisingly controversial in the face of the pandemic. A fundamental valuing of each life can be used to justify vaccine mandates, duty to vaccinate or vaccine refusal, depending on the interpretations of scripture, the scientific facts, and personal values. In this presentation, based on first-hand experience with CDC’s process in national vaccine policy decisions, I will review CDC’s evidence-based approach, including selection of the policy question (i.e., PICO), the scientific evidence evaluation (i.e., GRADE) and the explicitly defined decision process (i.e., Evidence to recommendations framework). Then, I will show my synthesis of the biblical and ethical foundations for prevention and duty to others. Next, I will discuss my response to ethical concerns about vaccines in light of fetal cell lines used in some, but not all, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing processes. Then, I will consider the issues of conscience, least restrictive alternative, and duty with respect to vaccination in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, I will share my own conclusions about the ethics of COVID-19 vaccination.

Bio: Dr. Richard K Zimmerman, MD MPH MA (Bioethics) MS FIDSA FAAFP, is Professor of Family Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, as an infectious disease epidemiologist, researching the epidemiology of respiratory viruses including influenza, SARS-CoV2, and RSV. He is the Pittsburgh site principal investigator for the CDC’s Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network which also studies COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness. Dr. Zimmerman also practices part-time in a faith-based federally qualified health center in the inner city of Pittsburgh. He served on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) as a voting member in 2002-4 and, at the CDC’s request, has continued to be a consultant to the working group on pneumococcal vaccines. He currently is an ACIP liaison from the Association of Prevention, Teaching and Research.

11:40 AM Discussion

12:00 PM Lunch (restaurants in the area)

1:30 PM Dr. Timothy Girard, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Randomized Controlled Trials: Why Do We Need Them and Can We Trust Them?

Abstract: Randomized controlled trials are widely considered the most reliable study design by which to determine the efficacy of medications and other clinical interventions. Thus, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, numerous randomized controlled trials were designed and conducted throughout the world to evaluate vaccines and potential treatments. The results of these trials quickly became the subject of controversy for a number of reasons, including a lack of familiarity with the purpose and value of the randomized controlled trial design. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, I will describe the reasons that randomized controlled trials are needed, how they address the limitations of other study designs, and the safeguards that have been implemented to ensure reliable results. I will also review the limitations of randomized controlled trials and describe recent advances intended to address these limitations.

Bio: Timothy D. Girard, MD, MSCI, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine and Director of the University’s Clinical Research, Investigation, and Systems Modeling of Acute Illnesses (CRISMA) Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-funded research program seeks to understand and enhance long-term recovery from critical illness with a specific focus on cognitive impairment due to critical illness; delirium and sedation in the ICU; and liberation from mechanical ventilation.

2:10 Discussion

2:30 Dr. David Snoke, University of Pittsburgh

“The ethics of decision making with partial information”

Abstract: In the end, most debates come down to epistemology: what do we really know and who can we trust? How can we make ethical decisions when we only have partial information, or incomplete confidence that we have been told the truth by others? I will discuss general principles for how to think about this, which relate to issues as diverse as COVID, global warming, and creation and evolution.

Bio: David Snoke is Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Pittsburgh, and runs a laser laboratory funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. His research focuses on fundamental quantum effects in optics. He is the president of the Christian Scientific Society, and licensed to preach in the Presbyterian Church in America, and has written numerous articles on topics of science and Christian faith.

3:15 PM Break

3:30 Panel Discussion

The speakers will participate as well as the following additional panelists:

Jonathan Uy, MD, is the Senior Global Medical Affairs Leader for Respiratory Infections at Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson).  As an industry physician, he has worked across multiple therapeutic areas in diverse settings from biotech to large pharmaceuticals with a focus on clinical trials and real-world evidence.

Claudia C Cotca, BSc, MPH, DDS, researches dentistry and facial reconstruction at the Washington Institute For Dentistry & Laser Surgery. She has given thought to the effectiveness of face masks over the past few years.

Panel moderator:  Jason Rampelt, Ph.D., Th.M., is a specialist in history and philosophy of science. He has taught courses in the HPS department at Pitt, and is presently archivist for the University of Pittsburgh collection on science history. In 2006–2009 he was a research fellow at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, UK; in 2011–2014, he worked in neuroscience labs at Pitt doing surgery, histology, and imaging.

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