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Safety signal identification for COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccination using tree-based scan statistics in the Vaccine Safety Datalink

Traditional active vaccine safety monitoring involves pre-specifying health outcomes and biologically plausible outcome-specific time windows of concern, limiting the adverse events that can be evaluated. In this study, we used tree-based scan statistics to look broadly for >60,000 possible adverse events after bivalent COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccine Safety Datalink enrollees aged ≥5 years receiving Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent COVID-19 vaccine through November 2022 were followed for 56 days post-vaccination. Incident diagnoses in inpatient or emergency department settings were analyzed for clustering within the hierarchical ICD-10-CM diagnosis code “tree” and temporally within post-vaccination follow-up. The conditional self-controlled tree-temporal scan statistic was used, conditioning on total number of cases of each diagnosis and total number of cases of any diagnosis occurring during the scanning risk window across the entire tree. P = 0.01 was the pre-specified cut-off for statistical significance. Analysis included 352,509 doses of Moderna and 979,189 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccines. After Moderna vaccination, no statistically significant clusters were found. After Pfizer-BioNTech, there were clusters of unspecified adverse events (Days 1-3, p = 0.0001-0.0007), influenza (Days 35-56, p = 0.0001), cough (Days 44-55, p = 0.0002), and COVID-19 (Days 52-56, p = 0.0004). For Pfizer-BioNTech only, we detected clusters of: (1) unspecified adverse effects, as have been observed in other vaccine studies using this method, and (2) respiratory disease toward the end of follow-up. The respiratory clusters were likely due to overlap of follow-up with the spread of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, and COVID-19, i.e., confounding by seasonality. The untargeted nature of the method and its inherent adjustment for the many diagnoses and risk intervals evaluated are unique advantages. Limitations include susceptibility to time-varying confounding, lower statistical power for assessing risks of specific outcomes than in traditional studies targeting fewer outcomes, and the possibility of missing adverse events not strongly clustered in time or within the “tree.”

Authors: Katherine Yih, W;Duffy, Jonathan;Maro, Judith C;et al.

Vaccine. 2023 Aug 14;41(36):5265-5270. Epub 2023-07-20.

PubMed abstract

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