Suomen Akatemia

How have Finnish researchers reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences?

15 Nov 2021

In 2020, most of the applications concerning Covid-19 submitted to the Academy of Finland were in the fields of biomedicine, social sciences and microbiology. The research topics included the development of vaccines and medicines, security of supply and crisis preparedness, the impact of the pandemic on work and employees in critical sectors, social inequality, mental health and wellbeing, and Covid-19 disinformation. In this review, we will show how the Covid-19 pandemic appears in applications submitted to and funding granted by the Academy of Finland.

The year 2020 was exceptional. The Covid-19 pandemic, which ran rampant around the world, shook our society thoroughly and persistently. Despite the pandemic, the Academy of Finland received more than 4,000 funding applications. In addition to our annual autumn call, which is open-themed, we also opened calls for pre-defined themes. These targeted calls were carried out with additional funds allocated by the Finnish Parliament to the Academy in the supplementary budgets for spring and summer 2020.

The more than 4,000 applications we received last year give us unique insight into the best and latest ideas of the Finnish research community. This material provides both a broad and in-depth understanding of the research issues Finnish researchers currently consider most important and topical.

Covid-19 and its consequences in research topics in 2020

We analysed applications submitted to the Academy in 2020 to identify new research issues, perspectives and research topics selected by researchers that had emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic. Our objective was to identify common pandemic-related themes that the researchers had prioritised. We have drawn up a report that presents the themes identified in the analysis.

The analysis gives a unique view on the kind of Covid-19 research that Finnish researchers focus on. According to our results, Covid-19 was a key theme in 3.2% of applications submitted in 2020. Some 19% of the so-called Covid-19 applications included in our analysis received funding, and the total funding for these applications totalled approximately 20 million euros. The funding focused in particular on drug development and research into the resilience of our society.

In addition to the calls included in our analysis, the Academy granted 8.45 million euros in the call regarding Covid-19 and its mitigation and 15 million euros in the Strategic Research Council programme Pandemics as a Challenge for Society (PANDEMICS) in the Covid-19-themed calls opened in 2020.

We examined the Covid-19 applications in our analysis in more detail, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and identified nine different themes.

Figure 1. Central topics presented in the Covid-19 applications.

  1. Most applications go under the topic Covid-19 and biosciences. Keywords for applications in this topic include infection, antibody, inhibitor and virus. Many applications were submitted to the call for Covid-19 vaccine and drug development research.
  2. The second largest topic is Covid-19 and citizenship. Keywords: society, politics, media and trust.
  3. The third topic is Impacts of Covid-19 on work and business. Keywords: entrepreneurship, strategy, crisis and motivation.
  4. The fourth topic is Impacts of Covid-19 on public health. Keywords: population, health, child and mental health.
  5. The fifth topic in the applications is Covid-19 and public administration. Keywords: resilience, economy, politics, climate and governance.
  6. The sixth topic is Clinical COVID-19 research and environmental health. Keywords: epidemiology, care, mortality and infectious diseases.

Covid-19 inspired research into the disease and the virus and the numerous effects of the pandemic

The topics we identified show the diversity of research issues created by the pandemic and highlight that researchers share common interests. The Finnish research community is actively committed to addressing new challenges on a broad scale and seeking novel research-based solutions.

Interesting observations emerge about the many facets of the research issues raised by the pandemic when we look at applications that combine two different topics. These are illustrated with the lines in Figure 1. In our analysis, we refer to groups of applications combining two topics as themes. We will look at three of them in more detail.

The first theme combines Covid-19 and biosciences and Clinical Covid-19 research and environmental health. This theme covers both vaccine and drug development research and the research infrastructures and clinical care required. This is undoubtedly a theme where the need for research has been – and continues to be – acute, where research has directly contributed to curbing the pandemic and reduced the health damage caused by it.

The other two themes we analysed highlight softer values. One of these covers applications that combine Covid-19 and citizenship and Covid-19 and public administration. The third theme combines the themes Covid-19 and citizenship and Impacts of Covid-19 on public health. Both of these themes cover research issues related to wellbeing, society, inequality and systemic challenges. The pandemic appears not only to be a medical research issue but also a multidimensional societal challenge.

An interesting observation is that “child” and “children” are two of the most used words in the Covid-19 applications, both in medical and societal themes. It seems that the research community has identified children as the population group in which the pandemic has caused the greatest number of new questions. In other words, it is a group that most needs research data in order to reduce the harmful effects of the pandemic.

Research-based knowledge mitigates the effects of pandemics and other crises and strengthens crisis preparedness

In the 2021 autumn call, we again received thousands of applications in which Finnish researchers describe the research issues they consider relevant and topical. How does the pandemic appear in these applications? What topics and themes will we find if we repeat the analysis with new data? For example, are there any new solutions to support children in their daily lives and development after the pandemic? There hardly exists a subject more worthy of research.

2021 is the Year of Research-Based Knowledge, and the Covid-19 pandemic has indeed demonstrated the importance of extensive research. Who knows what challenges lie around the corner and what kind of information we need to survive the next crisis?

Further information about research funded by the Academy of Finland on the Covid-19 pandemic and other social crises is available on the web pages of the RESILIENCE Academy Programme. Our objective is to use the programme to support the utilisation of research results in society to mitigate the effects of pandemics and other crises and to strengthen crisis preparedness.

Do you have questions or feedback for us?