The Use of Test-negative Controls to Monitor Vaccine Effectiveness: A Systematic Review of Methodology

Huiying Chua, Shuo Feng, Joseph A Lewnard, Sheena G Sullivan, Christopher C Blyth, Marc Lipsitch, Benjamin J Cowling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The test-negative design is an increasingly popular approach for estimating vaccine effectiveness (VE) due to its efficiency. This review aims to examine published test-negative design studies of VE and to explore similarities and differences in methodological choices for different diseases and vaccines.

METHODS: We conducted a systematic search on PubMed, Web of Science, and Medline, for studies reporting the effectiveness of any vaccines using a test-negative design. We screened titles and abstracts and reviewed full texts to identify relevant articles. We created a standardized form for each included article to extract information on the pathogen of interest, vaccine(s) being evaluated, study setting, clinical case definition, choices of cases and controls, and statistical approaches used to estimate VE.

RESULTS: We identified a total of 348 articles, including studies on VE against influenza virus (n = 253), rotavirus (n = 48), pneumococcus (n = 24), and nine other pathogens. Clinical case definitions used to enroll patients were similar by pathogens of interest but the sets of symptoms that defined them varied substantially. Controls could be those testing negative for the pathogen of interest, those testing positive for nonvaccine type of the pathogen of interest, or a subset of those testing positive for alternative pathogens. Most studies controlled for age, calendar time, and comorbidities.

CONCLUSIONS: Our review highlights similarities and differences in the application of the test-negative design that deserve further examination. If vaccination reduces disease severity in breakthrough infections, particular care must be taken in interpreting vaccine effectiveness estimates from test-negative design studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-64
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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