Press Release No. 37 | September 8, 2022

DFG Commission for Pandemic Research: Strengthening Pandemic Preparedness for the Future

Current position paper identifies where gaps remain in terms of knowledge and action based on insights gained during the coronavirus pandemic / 17 Lessons Learned with resilience strategies geared towards more effective preparation for future pandemics

Current position paper identifies where gaps remain in terms of knowledge and action based on insights gained during the coronavirus pandemic / 17 Lessons Learned with resilience strategies geared towards more effective preparation for future pandemics

The Interdisciplinary Commission for Pandemic Research of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has evaluated its findings and experience gained from the coronavirus pandemic to date. In a recently published position paper, the Committee, which is made up of 21 members drawn from all academic disciplines, sets out its conclusions with a view to ensuring future pandemic preparedness. In a total of 17 Lessons Learned, gaps in knowledge and action are identified along with measures to be taken from the perspective of the sciences and humanities. The Lessons Learned are aimed at politicians and administrators as well as science organisations, research funding agencies, media representatives and researchers.

“The coronavirus pandemic has occurred during a period of multiple complex global crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and armed conflict as well as other crises which we may not even be able to foresee at the present time,” said DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker, who is also chair of the Commission for Pandemic Research. “At a moment such as this, scientifically secured knowledge is of particular value, as are scientific structures and resources. By presenting this position paper, our aim is to strengthen future pandemic preparedness by incorporating perspectives from all academic disciplines. It is precisely this interdisciplinary dialogue within the Commission on the needs of pandemic-related research and those of the sciences and humanities in general that we have found to be especially beneficial.”

“The position paper published by the DFG Commission on Pandemic Research is a synopsis of observations and findings arrived at during the various phases of the ongoing pandemic from the perspective of the scientists and scholars involved. It makes no claim to fully represent the diverse range of research and funding activities being pursued within the German research system and beyond,” said DFG Vice President Professor Dr. Britta Siegmund, who is also a member of the Commission. “Instead, specific concrete examples are provided of the Lessons Learnt. In addition, the position paper outlines further research needs and sets out how the framework conditions are to be developed to ensure that effective action is taken on the recommendations made.”

The first six Lessons Learned focus on observations on science support structures and funding policy. The position paper starts by emphasising the key role of free and curiosity-driven basic research: this continuously adds to a body of knowledge that can be tapped into in response to future, as yet unforeseen crises. Given this significance, basic research should in no way be weakened in comparison to programme-oriented funding. As elementary building blocks for crisis management, national, international and interdisciplinary networking and cooperation between the sciences and the humanities are in urgent need of ongoing support.

At the same time, the position paper warns against the “covidisation” of academic research, i.e. longer-term concentration of funding on a single topic is to be avoided. In order to make the science system more stable yet at the same time more responsive in crisis situations, the position paper also proposes building up additional staffing capacity that is not financed out of third-party funds. This will provide greater stability in crisis situations while at the same time allowing for greater responsiveness on the part of the science system itself. Finally, the cascading consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are to be researched in the long term, too: this research should not be discontinued when the pandemic comes to an end.

Lessons Learned nos. 7 to 12 focus on the scientific production process: this includes the recognition that the digital infrastructure of the science system is to be strengthened as a matter of urgency, while funding measures for equal opportunities in the science system are to be readjusted. In addition, the Commission recommends establishing new forms of quality assurance in the scientific publication process: in order to be able to publish on time-critical topics swiftly, while at the same time ensuring quality, a culture of advance publications is needed in as many academic fields as possible, not least based on academic training. When communicating pandemic management measures, it is important to convey the underlying scientific basis of these measures as well as their limitations. In the Commission’s view, this also requires supranational bodies that formulate recommendations for action in crisis situations based on interdisciplinary criteria and synthesised evidence. Another finding is that access to and the availability and linkage of data must be improved as a matter of urgency.

Lessons Learnt nos. 13 to 17 are aimed at science communication and scientific advice to policymakers and administrators: first and foremost, scientists need to be qualified to be able to deliver science communication. They require resources and qualification programmes to improve their media competence and their knowledge of the media system. At the same time, it is important to expand and enhance the understanding of science among journalists. In addition, the Commission proposes the creation of a central communication structure for effective health and crisis communication and initiate research into the conditions required for the implementation of evidence-based health communication. Last but not least, there is a need for clear rules to be established for scientific policy advice.

The position paper first lists the above-mentioned Lessons Learnt in summary form before going on to provide a detailed elaboration and justification of the individual points. At the same time, the conclusions are consistent and compatible with publications issued by other academic bodies on this topic. This will enable the insights gained from the coronavirus pandemic to be secured and the resulting recommendations can be used to help strengthen Germany’s crisis resilience.

This recently published position paper on pandemic preparedness is the fifth major publication to be issued by the DFG’s Interdisciplinary Commission for Pandemic Research. The body was established as long ago as June 2020 by Germany’s largest research funding organisation and central self-governing body for science and the humanities. Since then, the Commission has met more than 20 times and has also repeatedly issued public statements, for example as early as January 2021 with its comprehensive dossier Know more, make informed decisions on COVID-19 vaccination, a position paper on aerosol research, and statements on the need for action with regard to health research data and research into the topic of Long COVID.

In November 2021, the Commission organised the international digital conference Preparedness for Future Pandemics from a Global Perspective, and the discussions and outcomes of the latter have now also been incorporated into the current position paper. In addition, the Commission monitored the major subject-specific calls for proposals and, in particular, the seven new types of Focus Funding under which the DFG has initiated funding of more than 150 new projects since 2020 dedicated to research into the coronavirus pandemic and its many scientific, economic, political, cultural and social implications, as well as other epidemics and pandemics. Originally established for two years, the Commission’s mandate has since been extended until the end of 2023.

Further Information

To the position paper:

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations
    Tel. +49 228 885-2109

Programme contact at the DFG Head Office:

  • Dr. Anne Brüggemann
    Humanities and Social Sciences 2: Social and Behavioural Sciences
    Tel. 0228 885-2213

On the DFG Commission for Pandemic Research: