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WHO backs U of T professor's recommendations for reducing pain of vaccines

Yellow fever vaccination drive in Togo, Africa (photo by Norbert Domy via flickr

When the World Health Organization asked University of Toronto Professor Anna Taddio for help increasing vaccination rates around the world her overriding message was: make the needles less painful and scary.

On May 29, WHO announced it will adopt many of the recommendations proposed by Taddio when she travelled to Geneva to address  its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts. (Read about why Taddio was invited to address the group.)

“The World Health Organization has influence over immunization delivery in so many countries so this is a huge accomplishment,” said Taddio, a professor in the Leslie L. Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. “The recommendations we proposed will be implemented in those countries and since other nations look to WHO for guidance, we hope to see our recommendations gradually implemented even more broadly.”

An expert in pain management, especially for children, Taddio leads the Help ELiminate Pain in Kids (HELPinKIDS) project, an inter-disciplinary initiative that brings together clinicians, scientists, policy makers and educators. Her recommendations were aimed at reducing pain which, in turn, promotes vaccination.  

“Concerns about pain can lead parents to avoid or delay vaccinations in children,” said Taddio. “And those same concerns or fears can also lead adults to delay their own vaccinations or avoid health-care treatments or decisions.”

In evaluating Taddio’s proposed pain mitigation techniques, WHO said it considered a range of criteria: benefits and harms; resource use and value for money; impacts on equity (would the intervention increase, decrease, or have no effect on health inequalities?), acceptability and feasibility. 

While many of Taddio’s recommendations were adopted, her suggestion that topical anesthetics be used to mitigate pain at an injection site was considered unfeasible due to cost and lack of general availability in many low-income countries. 

However, WHO acknowledged it is a highly-effective intervention in pain mitigation and recommended it for use in countries such as Canada. 

photo of Anna TaddioTaddio (pictured at right) said she was pleased with WHO’s report and hopes her recommendations will lead to changes in the way vaccines are administered and an increase in the global vaccination rate.  

“About one quarter of adults and two-thirds of children are afraid of needles,” Taddio said. That’s why it’s so significant that pain and pain management are now explicitly recognized by WHO as part of immunization delivery and immunization programs.” 

Taddio said she hopes to see more education about pain mitigation incorporated into the WHO and country-specific immunization field training programs. 

“As the relief of pain during health-related procedures is also accepted as a basic human right, mitigation of pain at vaccination should be part of good vaccination practice around the globe.” 

Michael Kennedy writes about health and wellness for U of T News.