A University of Guelph professor is a lead author on new guidelines for minimizing pain and distress from vaccinations in children and adults that were published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The guidelines are the first to focus on reducing vaccination pain for adults. They also update and expand 2010 recommendations for infants and children.

Meghan-mcmurtry“Vaccinations are the most common painful medical procedure. Internationally, an estimated 12 billion are given annually,” said Meghan McMurtry, Department of Psychology.

While vaccines are a major medical achievement and have helped to eradicate and combat numerous infectious diseases, the injections are usually painful.

“Pain from and fear of injections are known contributors to vaccine hesitancy,” said McMurtry, who runs U of G’s Pediatric Pain, Health and Communication lab, where researchers study children’s experience of pain (both acute and chronic), including how parents behave when their children are in pain.

Better pain and fear management would reduce suffering and help to curb both avoidance of medical care and vaccination non-adherence, McMurtry said.

“Recent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as measles in the United States clearly highlight the need for effective vaccine coverage.”

The new guidelines consist of “5 P’s” to reduce pain (physical, pharmacological, psychological, procedural, and process), including body position, distraction techniques and topical anesthetics.

The guidelines have been endorsed by 12 national organizations including the Canadian Paediatric Society and Canadian Psychological Association, and have garnered national and international media attention.

As well, the World Health Organization has endorsed many of the recommendations for international implementation, to be announced in a report in September.

“Implementation of this guideline has the potential to change the experience of vaccinations on a national and global level,” McMurtry said.

“Endorsement by the WHO for implementation globally is a salient indication of the importance and feasibility of many of these recommendations. I feel very privileged to be part of this team and to be playing a leadership role.”

McMurtry belongs to Help Eliminate Pain in Kids and Adults (HELPinKids&Adults), a national multidisciplinary team including researchers, clinicians and policy-makers who drafted the guidelines.      The guidelines are based on a series of six systematic reviews, which will be published in October in a special issue of the Clinical Journal of Pain, along with several accompanying articles. A systematic review on interventions for needle fear led by McMurtry will also appear in the journal, funded by a knowledge synthesis grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Formed in 2008, HELPinKids&Adults conducts research and develops tools to improve pain care during injections and, ultimately, to increase vaccination rates. The team is led by University of Toronto professor Anna Taddio, a pharmacist and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children.