A comparison of the test-negative and traditional case-control study designs with respect to the bias of estimates of rotavirus vaccine effectiveness.


Estimation of the effectiveness of rotavirus vaccines via the test-negative control study design has gained popularity over the past few years. In this study design, children with severe diarrhea who test positive for rotavirus infection are considered as cases, while children who test negative serve as controls. We use a simple probability model to evaluate and compare the test-negative control and the traditional case-control designs with respect to the bias of resulting estimates of rotavirus vaccine effectiveness (VE). Comparisons are performed under two scenarios, corresponding to studies performed in high-income and low-income countries. We consider two potential sources of bias: (a) misclassification bias resulting from imperfect sensitivity and specificity of the test used to diagnose rotavirus infection, and (b) selection bias associated with possible effect of rotavirus vaccination on the probability of contracting severe non-rotavirus diarrhea. Our results suggest that both sources of bias may produce VE estimates with substantial bias. Particularly, lack of perfect specificity is associated with severe negative bias. For example, if the specificity of the diagnostic test is 90% then VE estimates from both types of case-control studies may under-estimate the true VE by more than 20%. If the vaccine protects children against non-rotavirus diarrhea then VE estimates from test-negative control studies may be close to zero even though the true VE is 50%. However, the sensitivity and specificity of the enzyme immunoassay test currently used to diagnose rotavirus infections are both over 99%, and there is no solid evidence that the existing rotavirus vaccines affect the rates of non-rotavirus diarrhea. We therefore conclude that the test-negative control study design is a convenient and reliable alternative for estimation of rotavirus VE.

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