Meta-analysis in a time of pandemic

Christian Lederer, Martin Daumer, Romain-Daniel Gosselin, Ijaz S. Jamall and Björn L.D.M. Brücher

Received: 12 July 2022 Accepted: 12 July 2022

There is a perception that meta-analyses can provide neat and concise conclusions which can then be used for clinical treatment guidelines or in public health as in the on-going Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The widespread popularity of meta-analyses also presents a risk in that inconclusive results in the original individual studies, evaluated under the rubric of a meta-analysis, become accepted based on flawed methodologies and thus be used inappropriately for decision-making, especially for easy to implement, but potentially incorrect, patient treatments or public health measures. Recently a meta-analysis was published in 4open as a means to obtain a better estimate of the serial interval (SI) for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The author aimed to reduce the uncertainty around the SI for different COVID-19 variants by performing a meta-analysis of publications between 1st December 2019 and 15 February 2022 and concluded: "The meta-analysis was unable to provide a suitable estimate of serial intervals for Covid-19 modeling purposes although its uncertainty was reduced. Furthermore, serial intervals estimate for alpha variant was close to earlier reports and lower than previous publications, respectively. Another limitation is, that meta-analysis of COVID pandemic studies in principle contains and produces itself a significant source of heterogeneity."