Assortativity and Bias in Epidemiologic Studies of Contagious Outcomes: A Simulated Example in the Context of Vaccination.
Assortativity is the tendency of individuals connected in a network to share traits and behaviors. Through simulations, we demonstrated the potential for bias resulting from assortativity by vaccination, where vaccinated individuals are more likely to be connected with other vaccinated individuals. We simulated outbreaks of a hypothetical infectious disease and vaccine in a randomly generated network and a contact network of university students living on campus. We varied protection of the vaccine to the individual, transmission potential of vaccinated-but-infected individuals, and assortativity by vaccination. We compared a traditional approach, which ignores the structural features of a network, with simple approaches which summarized information from the network. The traditional approach resulted in biased estimates of the unit-treatment effect when there was assortativity by vaccination. Several different approaches that included summary measures from the network reduced bias and improved confidence interval coverage. Through simulations, we showed the pitfalls of ignoring assortativity by vaccination. While our example is described in terms of vaccines, our results apply more widely to exposures for contagious outcomes. Assortativity should be considered when evaluating exposures for contagious outcomes.
Zivich, PN; Volfovsky, A; Moody, J; Aiello, AE
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