Science was intellectually well positioned to respond to the corona pandemic. However, there was a huge problem with the implementation and infrastructure. This is the conclusion at a symposium of the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) and the British University of Oxford. Numerous experts came together in Berlin this Thursday and Friday to discuss how to deal with the pandemic. The question of what we need to learn in order to be prepared for future pandemics was a focus.
“We just have to say that we weren’t prepared,” said Heyo Kroemer, CEO of the Charité University Medicine self-critically. The federal government’s assessment that the virus was far away and could be controlled well here quickly turned out to be wrong. The Charité came under rapid pressure, the intensive care beds were full, the staff at the limit. However, Berlin reacted very quickly and transmitted all serious corona cases to the Charité – a procedure that is unique in Germany.
What was also new was that the Charité received 150 million euros from the government to join forces with all academic medical centers and fight the virus together. “The structure was there, we just didn’t use it before,” said Kroemer. Last week it was decided to keep this network going. The international cooperation between nine European universities also helped contain the pandemic.
Ultimately, the German medical system dealt with Corona quite well, said Kroemer. For him, the “really bad IT infrastructure in the healthcare system is a major deficit. We cannot process large amounts of data. We have to work on that,” he said. Simply because Germany is threatened with a dramatic shortage of work due to demographic change, which digitization must compensate for as far as possible.
Vaccine researcher Leif Erik Sander called it “pure luck” that Germany was quite well positioned at the beginning of the pandemic. “We had the advantage that the wave came later and we weren’t overrun like Bergamo,” said the head of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the Charité. In the years that followed, however, it became clear what Germany’s greatest weakness was: a lack of flexibility. “We don’t lack good scientists, we don’t lack money. We’re just too slow. We’ve gotten used to taking our time and planning things first,” said Sander.
The regulatory obstacles must be accelerated, especially for future infectious diseases such as monkeypox. The vaccine is there and must now be tested for its effectiveness. He hopes to be able to start immediately. Sander sees another problem in the lack of digital infrastructure, which eats up valuable time. The colleagues from Oxford had achieved an enormous amount, partly because they were able to process large amounts of data quickly.
Vice-President Louise Richardson and Chris Conlon, Head of Experimental Medicine, reported on the successes of the University of Oxford. The pandemic would have anchored science more firmly in society. The university, in turn, also has a social responsibility. The pandemic has shown how well positioned universities are because they have access to scientists from all backgrounds, Richardson said. “We have to be careful not to leave the pandemic to the scientists alone. Humanities scholars and sociologists are also very important,” she said. These cross-border collaborations are essential to combat future pandemics, said Chris Conlon. “We have to keep this structure alive. And we have to be aware that pandemics are happening – at ever shorter intervals.”
Oxford University and BUA formed a partnership in 2017 to enable collaborative research and share knowledge across borders. Since 2019, the BUA, consisting of the Berlin universities and the Charité, has been dedicated to the question of how our society wants to live in the 21st century. “How do we want to live?” and tries to develop solutions for the challenges of the present – the 21st century, such as the global health crisis caused by Covid or the consequences of climate change.