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BACKGROUND: Many serological assays to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Differences in the detection mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 serological assays limited the comparability of seroprevalence estimates for populations being tested. METHODS: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of serological assays used in SARS-CoV-2 population seroprevalence surveys, searching for published articles, preprints, institutional sources, and grey literature between 1 January 2020, and 19 November 2021. We described features of all identified assays and mapped performance metrics by the manufacturers, third-party head-to-head, and independent group evaluations. We compared the reported assay performance by evaluation source with a mixed-effect beta regression model. A simulation was run to quantify how biased assay performance affects population seroprevalence estimates with test adjustment. RESULTS: Among 1807 included serosurveys, 192 distinctive commercial assays and 380 self-developed assays were identified. According to manufacturers, 28.6% of all commercial assays met WHO criteria for emergency use (sensitivity [Sn.] >= 90.0%, specificity [Sp.] >= 97.0%). However, manufacturers overstated the absolute values of Sn. of commercial assays by 1.0% [0.1, 1.4%] and 3.3% [2.7, 3.4%], and Sp. by 0.9% [0.9, 0.9%] and 0.2% [-0.1, 0.4%] compared to third-party and independent evaluations, respectively. Reported performance data was not sufficient to support a similar analysis for self-developed assays. Simulations indicate that inaccurate Sn. and Sp. can bias seroprevalence estimates adjusted for assay performance; the error level changes with the background seroprevalence. CONCLUSIONS: The Sn. and Sp. of the serological assay are not fixed properties, but varying features depending on the testing population. To achieve precise population estimates and to ensure the comparability of seroprevalence, serosurveys should select assays with high performance validated not only by their manufacturers and adjust seroprevalence estimates based on assured performance data. More investigation should be directed to consolidating the performance of self-developed assays.

Original publication




Journal article


Vaccines (Basel)

Publication Date





evaluation, performance, sensitivity, serological assay, seroprevalence, specificity, validation