Press Release No. 13 | March 26, 2024

Learning from the Pandemic to Ensure Better Preparedness: Final Report by the DFG's Commission for Pandemic Research

Commission emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary research / Further research still very much needed / Appeal for science-driven reappraisal and advisory structures

In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Germany, interdisciplinary research strategies and studies were of considerable benefit to science, politics and society. Yet even after the end of the acute pandemic phase, further research is still very much needed into a wide range of questions. In order to be even better prepared for future crises, it will also be vital to carry out a systematic, science-driven reappraisal of the pandemic and the measures imposed, as well as examining the role of science itself. 

These are three of the key conclusions drawn by the DFG’s Interdisciplinary Commission for Pandemic Research after three and a half years of work from mid-2020 to the end of 2023. The Commission’s final report has now been published by the DFG, following its presentation and discussion in the Executive Committee, Senate and Joint Committee of Germany's largest research funding organisation and central self-governing organisation for science and the humanities.

“The report underlines the significant contribution of free and knowledge-driven research to containing the pandemic,” emphasises Commission chair DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker in the foreword. “The positive response to the Commission’s work,” Becker continues, “provides an opportunity to reflect on possible ways in which society and policymakers can continue to benefit from the wide-ranging expertise of the German research landscape and its organisations in the future. The experience gained by the DFG with this particular Commission could feed into such considerations.”

When presenting the report to the DFG statutory bodies, Becker expressed her conviction that “transparent and interdisciplinary scientific advisory structures are needed in Germany on a permanent basis and independently of crises so as to further deepen the trust between society, politics and science”. According to the DFG President, however, this type of network has to be set up and maintained on a long-term basis in advance of future crises: this will enable science to make the most of its potential to strengthen existing structures in the event of a crisis and support the capabilities of the legally responsible institutions.

Established by the DFG in May 2020 as a deliberate addition to the numerous research and networking activities that rapidly emerged in Germany following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there were two aspects that distinguished the Pandemic Commission. Firstly – and unlike most expert panels – it operated independently of any direct political advisory context. Secondly, and most importantly, it brought together expertise from all the disciplines required to address pressing issues, incorporating mathematical, scientific, technical, legal, social, psychological and historical aspects in addition to the medical and epidemiological perspective. In retrospect, the Commission itself regards this broad interdisciplinary spectrum as having been a particular strength and extremely beneficial, as the report now states.

More than 60 pages in length and containing numerous references to more detailed sources and materials, the report initially focuses on the major topics and areas of activity that the initially 18 and later 21 Commission members addressed at a total of 26 meetings, with the DFG President as chair. All meetings were held digitally, with the exception of the final one.

One focus of the Commission’s work was the monitoring, coordination and support of coronavirus research projects, whether in the form of ongoing DFG projects, as part of the DFG’s largest interdisciplinary call for proposals to date for research into epidemics and pandemics, launched in March 2020, or under the DFG’s new “COVID-19 Focus Funding” programme aimed at filling acute research gaps at short notice. All in all, the Commission was involved in the funding of more than 150 research projects, for which a total sum of more than €45 million was approved.

The Commission also focused on networking research and other activities, for example through its international digital research conference “Preparedness for Future Pandemics from a Global Perspective” at the end of 2021: here it played a key supporting role in bringing together researchers from more than 100 DFG-funded projects and promoting closer dialogue with international partners. Other formats included scientific roundtables and the sharing of ideas with other organisations in the research system as well as with associations, foundations and policymakers.

By issuing a series of public and scientific statements, the Commission not only honoured its statutory mandate but also did justice to the heightened importance of communication during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, a dossier presented at the beginning of 2021 concerning vaccination against COVID-19 was widely received. Other topics included the spread of SARS-CoV-2 viruses through aerosols, Long COVID syndrome, the use of health data and the WHO Pandemic Treaty.

In another section of its report, the Commission reflects on recurring cross-cutting topics that consistently typified its own work while at the same time posing major challenges for science throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic. These included the considerable demand for interdisciplinary strategies and studies as well as the problems with research data and data linking – something that was especially pronounced in Germany, not least by international standards. Important cross-cutting topics with regard to the research system and the scientific work process included the publication culture and research productivity as well as questions of translation, implementation and knowledge transfer. The Commission’s involvement in science and health communication and in policy advice meant that there was also a regular focus on topics that went beyond the scientific context in the narrower sense.

In the concluding section of its report, the Commission addresses a number of issues that it considers to be pressing even after the end of the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, extending beyond the end of the Commission's own work. These once again concern the question of how society can be even better prepared to cope with pandemics and comparable crises in the future. 

Here, the 21 experts of the Commission start by recognising that there is still a considerable need for research in numerous fields. They consider it particularly important to forge stronger links between basic research and public health research. According to the report, there is a significant lack of research into the long-term consequences of COVID infections: here, more long-term, integrative cohort studies and multidisciplinary research strategies are needed in order to be able to capture the broad social and economic impacts that go beyond the long-term biomedical consequences. The Commission also sees a need for further research into the pandemic's long-term ecological consequences and the damage it has caused to the environment and to animals, as well as the general relationship between biodiversity and human health in light of the pandemic. Finally, it says that much still needs to be done in the area of implementation research and in particular in the translation of scientific findings into concrete health-related measures. 

The Commission concludes its report with an explicit appeal for a systematic, science-driven reappraisal of the pandemic and the measures imposed, and also of the role of science in the pandemic. Such a reappraisal is said to be essential in order to be better prepared to cope with future pandemics, potentially yielding vital insights for the revision of the Infection Protection Act and with regard to structural changes in health-related public institutions, for example. The Commission is also in favour of a comprehensive historical reappraisal and contextualisation of the coronavirus pandemic, which could likewise contribute a great deal to the question of preparedness.

Further information

The final report of the Commission for Pandemic Research can be found on the DFG website at: 

A detailed dossier on the Pandemic Commission and its work, as well as on the work of the DFG in the context of the coronavirus pandemic as a whole, is also available on the DFG website at:

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