Inadequate pain management during routine childhood immunizations: the nerve of it

Clin Ther. 2009:31 Suppl 2:S152-67. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2009.07.022.


Background: Immunization is regarded as one of the most significant medical achievements of all time. Recently, increasing attention has been paid to the pain resulting from routine childhood immunizations.

Objective: This narrative review summarizes existing knowledge about: (1) the epidemiology of childhood immunization pain; (2) the pain experience of children undergoing immunization; (3) current analgesic practices; (4) barriers to practicing pain management in children; and (5) recommendations for improvements in pain management during immunization.

Methods: We conducted a search of MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for primary research and review articles published from inception of the databases through October 2008. Key search terms included immunization, pain, child/infant, vaccine, and intervention. Additional studies were identified through searches of the reference lists in the retrieved articles. No language restrictions were imposed regarding the type of article (eg, full article, abstract) or language.

Results: Vaccine injections are the most common iatrogenic procedure performed in childhood and a major source of distress for children (of all ages), their parents, and the participating health care professionals, as well as a direct cause of vaccine nonadherence. In addition, lack of adequate pain management during immunization exposes children to unnecessary suffering and the potential for long-term consequences, such as fear of needles. Numerous pain management strategies are available to reduce vaccine injection pain, including: (1) physical interventions and injection techniques; (2) psychological interventions; and (3) phar-macologic and combined interventions. However, adoption of pain-relieving techniques into clinical practice has been suboptimal. The underutilization of pain management strategies can be attributed to a lack of knowledge about pain and effective pain prevention strategies, and the persistence of attitudes about pain that interfere with optimal clinical practices. Current analgesic practices could be improved substantially if all stakeholders involved in immunization (eg, policy makers, practitioners, consumers) participate in efforts to reduce pain. Treating pain during childhood immunization has the potential to reduce distress during the procedure and greatly improve satisfaction with the immunization experience through more positive experiences for children and their families. Other potential benefits include improved adherence to immunization schedules and reduced sequelae of untreated pain.

Conclusion: Immunization is a global health priority. Medical care can be improved if pain management becomes a routine aspect of the delivery of vaccine injections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Immunization / adverse effects*
  • Infant
  • Injections / adverse effects*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Patient Compliance