First, vaccinations are something to discuss with your doctor. I am in no way qualified to advise about the wisdom of vaccinations. But if you or your child is having an intramuscular injection, some say it is safer if the person giving the injection aspirate the needle to check that they are not about to inject it into a blood vessel, and only when they have confirmed that there is no blood, then push in the plunger. Some countries do insist on this, but Britain and the USA do not. The risk is very low, but for the person who does sustain possibly permanent organ damage as a result of the injection going straight into a blood vessel, it is not a great comfort to be told that that was super unlucky and rare. Aspirating might well have made a difference. Which is why some countries insist on aspiration before injection.
Secondly, medical treatment, however essential and however benevolently intended, applied to a child against his will, is exactly as wrong as it would be if the patient were an adult — and more so when it involves betrayal by trusted people who are responsible for the child’s welfare (i.e., the child’s parents). Children should not only not have any medical procedures performed on them without consent, they should be in control throughout. If this involves the parents annoying the medical professionals, so be it. (In my experience medical doctors have never been annoyed, or if they have been, they have not given any hint of being.)
Moving on to the practical point, no baby or child should ever feel the pain of an injection (except possibly in a situation of extreme urgency where they have much bigger worries anyway).
Always use a local anaesthetic cream like Emla (each gram of it contains 25mg Lidocaine plus 25mg Prilocaine in a water-miscible base — manufacturer in the UK: Astra pharmaceuticals).
It is completely effective, when used correctly, though using it is slightly tricky, the main difficulties being:
- It is only effective if it is applied TWO HOURS in advance.
- In the case of infants, a gauze has to be applied, and kept over it during those two hours.
- You have to remember exactly where you applied it (suggestion: use a felt-tip pen to mark the spot).
- It is prescription-only, and some people think that some medical practitioners see no need for pain relief for children. But again, I have found our GPs very happy to prescribe it, and have had no problems asking them to wait for the Emla cream to take effect before proceeding. Perhaps it helps to assume the best and speak to medical professions in a pleasant manner rather than speaking to them in a hostile, pessimistic, accusing way?
Children thus taken seriously typically smile and chat through any injection (and even significant medical procedures).
A 5 gram tube of Emla cream is enough to prepare for about 2-5 vaccinations. It is important to apply a thick layer, not thin as you would if you were applying ointment, and to cover it in something like cling film, in such a way that it does not disperse too far from the site by the time of the vaccination.
Final comment: pain relief is only a necessary, not a sufficient condition for making procedures such as vaccinations distress-free for young children.