Painful Vs Painless Vaccination For Babies: Which Is Better?

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Parents may consider painless vaccinations for babies to avoid the anxiety associated with vaccinating infants and reduce the discomfort for the little ones. Research indicates that 24-40% of parents in the US and Canada show concern about the pain associated with vaccinations in children. 85% of parents believe that healthcare providers should take the responsibility of making vaccinations less painful.

Read this post to know what painless vaccination is, its advantages, its limitations, and the potential cost.

In This Article

What Are Painless Vaccines?

Vaccination can cause pain either due to the method of delivery or due to post-vaccination reactions. Conventional or painful vaccines that are delivered through a syringe or injection often cause pain and tenderness at the injection site. However, pain during vaccination sessions is manageable and managing pain does not decrease the efficacy of the vaccine. Also, there are a number of painless vaccine delivery systems in practice.

The painless routes of administration include oral and nasal.

Despite the benefits of the painless route of delivery, to date, most of the vaccines are available as injection shots only.

protip_icon Research finds
Topical application of lidocaine-prilocaine 5% cream may reduce injection pain without interfering with vaccine immunogenicityiXThe ability of a vaccine to stimulate an immunological response against a disease (1).

Painless mucosal vaccines:

Oral polio vaccine is an example of painless mucosal vaccinations

Image: IStock

  •  Intranasal influenza and oral polio vaccines are examples of successful, painless mucosal vaccinations that help safeguard your newborn against harmful diseases. These vaccines are cost-effective compared to the injections and are ideal for vaccinations of the mass population (1).
  • Flumist is one of the live attenuated influenza nasal vaccines for children against the influenza virus. Rotarix and RotaTech against rotavirusDukoral for cholera, Vivotif against typhoid fever, and Sabin live OPV (oral polio vaccine) are some of the licensed oral vaccines (2).
  • These vaccines are easy to administer, safe, and several of the vaccines do not require cold chain maintenance (storage under low temperature until delivery). In comparison, an injection vaccine could require an unbroken cold chain during production, storage, and distribution.
  • Oral polio vaccines have been a great success, and it helped eradicate polio in countries like India. The country was listed by the global polio eradication initiative (GPEI) as the most difficult region in the world to eliminate wild poliovirus transmission (3).

The nasal and oral route makes for a painless vaccine administration. However, when there is a discussion of painless vaccination, most think of painless injection vaccines, which have been a current trend in many countries.

What Are Painless Injection Vaccines?

Painless vaccines result in less immune reactions after the delivery of the vaccine

Image: IStock

Acellular vaccines are known as painless vaccines. This type of vaccine contains a part of the cell, such as the antigenic part, then a complete cell of pathogens. The acellular vaccines are called painless since less immune reaction occurs after the delivery of vaccines compared to the body’s response to a whole-cell vaccination.

Painless vaccines are not exactly painless, and babies may still have pain due to injection. The pain in babies is usually noted based on post-vaccination behavior such as crying.

One of the main painless vaccines for babies is the DTaP vaccine, which contains diphtheria and tetanus toxoids (chemically modified pathogenic toxin) and an antigenic component of Bordetella pertussisiXA pathogenic bacterial species that causes whooping cough .

protip_icon Point to consider
Vaccination injection pain needs prompt management as a negative experience may make a baby/toddler develop a fear of needles and pre-procedural anxiety. It may also build avoidance behaviors, such as skipping immunization due to injection fear (15).

Is It Safe To Give Painless Vaccinations For Infants?

Every batch of vaccines undergoes quality control testing

Image: Shutterstock

All licensed and recommended vaccines are safe and effective because they are made with high safety standards. Vaccines are licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) after several years of safety tests and evaluation. Every batch of vaccines undergoes quality control before use (4).

If your country’s policies include acellular vaccines in the immunization schedule, then you may choose them based on the pediatrician’s advice. It is important to vaccinate your child for pertussis, and it doesn’t matter if your child receives a whole-cell painless or painful vaccination since both can create effective immunity against the disease (5).

Painless Vs. Painful Vaccination – Which Is Better?

Acellular vaccine can produce protection against moderate and severe pertussis disease

Image: IStock

All licensed and recommended vaccines are effective. The following are some essential points about painless versus painful vaccination.

  • According to the CDC, the studies conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of acellular vaccines have shown them to be as effective as whole-cell vaccines (6).
  • Three doses of acellular vaccine can produce a similar range of protection against moderate and severe pertussis disease as a whole-cell vaccine. The local reactions, such as pain, swelling, redness, and systemic reactions such as fever, were mild in acellular or painless vaccination (6).
  • Severe adverse effects such as persistent crying (crying for more than three hours), high fever, hypotonic and hyporesponsive episodesiXAdverse reactions to vaccinations causing symptoms such as weak muscle tone and reduced consciousness , and febrile seizure were less frequent among infants, who received DTaP (6).

Limitations Of Painless Vaccine

During the pertussis outbreak in 2009 and 2010, teens who were vaccinated with DTaP in infancy had a higher risk of contracting pertussis than the teens who received the whole-cell vaccine (7).

Due to the outbreaks of pertussis reported in some countries despite the use of acellular pertussis vaccine, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends the whole-cell vaccine for primary immunization in infants, and the acellular vaccines only for specific cases (5).

Many industrialized countries use acellular vaccines. The lasting immunity and requirement of a booster dose in teens may have to be studied further for more details. Your child’s pediatrician can also give you information about any ban on painless vaccinations in your country.

Despite the several instances of comparison between the painless and painful versions of the vaccine, there is a scarcity of conclusive data about the effectiveness of DTP and DTapvaccines. More case-control studies are required to look for the rare severe adverse effects such as encephalopathy and anaphylactic shock (lower blood pressure due to anaphylaxis or an allergic reaction).

Advantages Of Painless Vaccination

Compared to whole-cell vaccines,acellular vaccines are less painful and cause a minimal post-vaccination reaction. Advantages of painless vaccination may include:

  • Less systemic reactions, such as high fever, hypotonia, etc.
  • Low rates of local reactions such as swelling and redness (erythema) at the injection site.

    Painless vaccinations have low rates of swelling and redness

    Image: Shutterstock

  • Combination painless vaccines can give effective immunity to many infectious diseases at once.
  • Intranasal and oral vaccines are easy to give and cost-effective.

Clinical trials have shown that acellular vaccines have a lower rate of adverse events than whole-cell pertussis vaccines. However, this may still cause pain. Studies report that a few infants experience vaccination side effects, such as severe pain (8).

What Is The Cost Of Painless Vaccination For Babies?

Painless vaccination may cost more than older whole-cell vaccines. You may seek advice from your baby’s pediatrician for a routine vaccination schedule, available vaccines, and costs. Vaccine prices may vary in different countries, and some may get free vaccination as per the government policies.

Daptacel, Infanrix, Kinirix, Pediarix, Pentacel, and Quadracel are available licensed pediatricDTaP vaccines in the US (9). These vaccines can cost from $18 to 62 if you go for immunization programs included in the CDC funds, such as the state health departments. Private sector vaccinations may cost around $31 to 100 (10).

One time booster dose is also recommended for adults, especially those who are in contact with children younger than 12 months (11). The booster shot for adults and older children may incur an extra cost. You may seek your healthcare providers’ advice to choose the appropriate immunization programs which are convenient and cost-effective.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do babies sleep after immunization?

Yes. It is normal for babies to feel unsettled or sleepy after immunization (12).

2. How long does it take for babies to recover from the side effects of vaccines?

Mild side effects of vaccines often go away on their own after two to three days (13).

3. Do all babies get fever after vaccination?

No. Getting a fever differs from one baby to another. A few babies might not get a fever after vaccination. However, since fever indicates that vaccines are working, many parents are concerned if their babies do not develop a fever. In this case, you should know that the development of fever does not indicate the efficacy of the vaccine in your baby’s body (14).

4. Is it okay to delay vaccination for babies?

Dr. Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, a physician and medical journalist from North Miami Beach, Florida, says, “It is generally recommended that babies be vaccinated according to the recommended schedule to protect them from diseases as early as possible. Delaying vaccinations could leave babies vulnerable to diseases for longer periods, during which they could potentially contract a disease and experience complications.

“Vaccines are safe and effective, and the recommended vaccination schedule has been carefully developed by experts to provide maximum protection while minimizing the number of shots that babies have to receive.”

Painless vaccination for babies is usually administering the vaccine either orally or nasally. These modes of vaccination are well-under observation in recent times so as to reduce anxiety and other unpleasant experiences during the process. It is advised that you vaccinate your child against DTap and other major illnesses to reduce their risks. In case of any queries or doubts, consult a doctor or a pediatrician.

Infographic: Which Painless Immunization Methods May Be Available In The Future?

Besides the oral and nasal formulations, several new transdermal (through the skin) vaccine delivery systems are being developed to make immunization pain-free. Most of these techniques are still under trial but have shown promising efficacy. The infographic below lists some painless immunization techniques that might be available for all in the future.

advances in painless vaccine delivery systems (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Painless vaccines include oral or intranasal vaccinesiXVaccine administered through the nose that usually does not cause any pain and acellular injectable vaccines, which cause less pain and inflammation.
  • These vaccines cause milder episodes of pain, fever, and other systemic adverse effects than whole-cell injectable (painful) vaccines.
  • Licensed and recommended painless vaccines are safe and efficacious.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. NehaGarg and AnjuAggarwal; Advances Towards Painless Vaccination and Newer Modes of Vaccine Delivery; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
2. Julia E. Vela Ramirez, et al.; Current state and challenges in developing oral vaccines; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
3. Naveen Thacker, et al.; Polio Eradication in India: The Lessons Learned; The American Academy of Pediatrics
4. Vaccine Safety; The United States Department of Health & Human Services
5. Vipin M Vashishtha, et al.; Pertussis Vaccines: Position Paper of Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP); The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
6. Pertussis Vaccination: Use of Acellular Pertussis Vaccines Among Infants and Young Children Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP); The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
7. Pertussis: Microbiology, Disease, Treatment, and Prevention; American Society for Microbiology
8. Maria Rosario Capeding, et al.; Immunogenicity and safety of a DTaP–IPV//PRP~T combination vaccine given with hepatitis B vaccine: a randomized open-label trial; The World Health Organization
9. About Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Vaccines; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
10. CDC Vaccine Price List; Vaccines For Children program (VFC); The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
11. Acellular Vaccines for Preventing Pertussis in Children; The American Academy of Family Physicians
12. Immunisation – side effects; Better Health
13. After vaccination; National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance
14. What to expect after vaccinations; NHS
15. Anna Taddio et al.; Reducing the pain of childhood vaccination: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline; CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal

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