Identifiability of causal effects in test-negative design studies

Ian Shrier, Steven D. Stovitz, Johannes Textor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Causal directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) are often used to select variables in a regression model to identify causal effects. Outcome-based sampling studies, such as the 'test-negative design' used to assess vaccine effectiveness, present unique challenges that are not addressed by the common back-door criterion. Here we discuss intuitive, graphical approaches to explain why the common back-door criterion cannot be used for identification of population average causal effects with outcome-based sampling studies. We also describe graphical rules that can be used instead in outcome-based sampling studies when the objective is limited to determining if the causal odds ratio is identifiable, and illustrate recent changes to the free online software Dagitty which incorporate these principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1968-1974
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of epidemiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s) 2023; all rights reserved. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.


  • Identifiability
  • case-control
  • causal inference
  • directed acyclic graphs
  • test-negative design

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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