In this article we discuss the findings of contributions to the special issue titled Social policy responses to COVID-19. The articles add to the body of emerging evidence on how the pandemic has exacerbated the situation for some already vulnerable population groups, while also creating new sources of vulnerability affecting different groups. Despite both aggravated and new vulnerabilities, the articles demonstrate how governments have largely responded within the frameworks of their existing systems and institutions. Hence, overall, we do not see major shifts in policy direction. At the same time, some innovative responses or efforts to reach different groups are apparent, and it may just be too early to identify more fundamental shifts. IOs can play a key role in supporting such potential reforms. However, although IOs called for global solidarity at the start of the pandemic, many countries have ‘gone in on themselves’ and governments have largely strengthened the national focus of their policies. The potential for IOs to provide strong leadership in the long-term is still conceivable. The crisis is global and with all the different measures countries have put in place, there is a wealth of experience that could be collected and shared and IOs are well placed to do this. Responding to the pandemic will continue to require a global social policy perspective.