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BACKGROUND: Effective disease surveillance, including that for COVID-19, is compromised without a standardised method for categorising the immunosuppressed as a clinical risk group. METHODS: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate whether excess COVID-associated mortality compared to the immunocompetent could meaningfully subdivide the immunosuppressed. Our study adhered to UK Immunisation against infectious disease (Green Book) criteria for defining and categorising immunosuppression. Using OVID (EMBASE, MEDLINE, Transplant Library, and Global Health), PubMed, and Google Scholar, we examined relevant literature between the entirety of 2020 and 2022. We selected for cohort studies that provided mortality data for immunosuppressed subgroups and immunocompetent controls. Meta-analyses, grey literature and any original works that failed to provide comparator data or reported all-cause or paediatric outcomes were excluded. Odds Ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of COVID-19 mortality were meta-analysed by immunosuppressed category and subcategory. Subgroup analyses differentiated estimates by effect measure, country income, study setting, level of adjustment, use of matching and publication year. Study screening, extraction and bias assessment were performed blinded and independently by two researchers; conflicts were resolved with the oversight of a third researcher. PROSPERO registration number is CRD42022360755. FINDINGS: We identified 99 unique studies, incorporating data from 1,542,097 and 56,248,181 unique immunosuppressed and immunocompetent patients with COVID-19 infection, respectively. Compared to immunocompetent people (pooled OR, 95%CI), solid organ transplants (2.12, 1.50-2.99) and malignancy (2.02, 1.69-2.42) patients had a very high risk of COVID-19 mortality. Patients with rheumatological conditions (1.28, 1.13-1.45) and HIV (1.20, 1.05-1.36) had just slightly higher risks than the immunocompetent baseline. Case type, setting income and mortality data matching and adjustment were significant modifiers of excess immunosuppressed mortality for some immunosuppressed subgroups. INTERPRETATION: Excess COVID-associated mortality among the immunosuppressed compared to immunocompetent was seen to vary significantly across subgroups. This novel means of subdivision has prospective benefit for targeting patient triage, shielding and vaccination policies during periods of high disease transmission. FUNDING: Supported by EMIS Health and the UK Medical Research Council. Grant number: MR/R015708/1.

Original publication




Journal article


J Infect

Publication Date



COVID-19, Digital Health, Immunocompromised, Immunosuppressed, Personalised Medicine, Precision medicine, covid, disease surveillance, pandemic preparedness, vaccination, vaccines