“I Think One Should Vaccinate Carefully:” Health Professionals Accounts of Medical Knowledge, Risk, and Misinformed Others

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Terra MANCA, University of Alberta, Canada
Over recent years, narratives about the influence of anti-vaccine discourses on vaccination rates have drawn attention to the contestation of medical science. This attention often accompanies assumptions that vaccine supportive discourses are uniform. Specifically, it assumes that health professionals’ voices consistently support every vaccine recommended on their local vaccine schedule. Nonetheless, health professionals who are expected to support vaccines and communicate their support to patients hold expertise in diverse disciplines. Some health professionals express inconsistent understandings of vaccination that are rarely acknowledged, let alone investigated. Health professionals who specialize areas that are not vaccine focused (such as immunology) may fill gaps at the boundaries of their individual knowledge with lay information.

In this paper, I review how health professionals’ present themselves as professional when encouraged to discuss such gaps in their medical knowledge. I report findings from thirty-four interviews with physicians (N=27) and nurses (N=7) who practiced in Alberta, Canada. Interviews address how physicians and nurses accounted for the boundaries of their knowledge and how they related those accounts to perceptions of others’ knowledge. Every professional who I interviewed stated that they supported vaccination, but many identified specific vaccines that they questioned. I argue that my interviewees acknowledged the boundaries of their own professional knowledge as evidence of thoughtful awareness, but presented others’ skepticism as irrational and based in misinformation.