Background: Inactivated, whole-virion vaccines have been used extensively in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Its efficacy and effectiveness across regions have not been systematically evaluated. Efficacy refers to how well a vaccine performs in a controlled environment. Effectiveness refers to how well it performs in real world settings. Methods: This systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed published, peer-reviewed evidence on all WHO-approved inactivated vaccines and evaluated their efficacy and effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2 infection, symptomatic infection, severe clinical outcomes, and severe COVID-19. We searched Pubmed (including MEDLINE), EMBASE (via OVID), Web of Science Core Collection, Web of Science Chinese Science Citation Database, and Clinicaltrials.gov. Findings: The final pool included 28 studies representing over 32 million individuals reporting efficacy or effectiveness estimates of complete vaccination using any approved inactivated vaccine between January 1, 2019 and June 27, 2022. Evidence was found for efficacy and effectiveness against symptomatic infection (OR 0.21, 95% CI 0.16–0.27, I2 = 28% and OR 0.32, 95% CI 0.16–0.64, I2 = 98%, respectively) and infection (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.49–0.57, I2 = 90% and OR 0.31, 95% CI 0.24–0.41, I2 = 0%, respectively) for early SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VoCs) (Alpha, Delta), and for waning of vaccine effectiveness with more recent VoCs (Gamma, Omicron). Effectiveness remained robust against COVID-related ICU admission (OR 0.21, 95% CI 0.04–1.08, I2 = 99%) and death (OR 0.08, 95% CI 0.00–2.02, I2 = 96%), although effectiveness estimates against hospitalization (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.37–0.53, I2 = 0%) were inconsistent. Interpretation: This study showed evidence of efficacy and effectiveness of inactivated vaccines for all outcomes, although inconsistent reporting of key study parameters, high heterogeneity of observational studies, and the small number of studies of particular designs for most outcomes undermined the reliability of the findings. Findings highlight the need for additional research to address these limitations so that more definitive conclusions can be drawn to inform SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and vaccination policies. Funding: Health and Medical Research Fund on COVID-19, Health Bureau of the Government of the Hong Kong SAR.

  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Older adults
  • Vaccine/vaccination
  • Efficacy/effectiveness
  • COVID-19