Health professionals and the vaccine narrative: ‘the power of the personal story’ and the management of medical uncertainty

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Some vaccine supporters interpret vaccine uncertainties as a form of public ignorance caused by patients’ online research, failed physician–patient relationships, or inadequate knowledge translation. These interpretations often portray health professionals as homogeneously accepting of all scheduled vaccines for all patients. Nonetheless, health professionals may have limited knowledge about vaccines because the demands of their profession require them to have a broad understanding of a variety of health topics. In this article, I draw on data from interviews with twenty-six physicians and seven nurses in Alberta, Canada between 2013 and 2014, to examine how they used narratives to convey confidence, uncertainty, or doubts in vaccines. All interviewees supported the culturally dominant vaccine narrative that vaccines are essential to population health, yet they also spoke about uncertainties. Interviewees managed their uncertainties through tactics that confirmed accepting vaccination was the most desirable course of action. With each of these tactics, interviewees shared narratives about communicable diseases, vaccine benefits and risks to individual patients, and their reasons for trusting in medical science. When these narratives did not fully resolve medical uncertainties, health professionals often explained that either vaccination was beyond their professional responsibilities or that their uncertainties were irrelevant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-136
Number of pages23
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2016


  • public health
  • risk
  • risk perception
  • uncertainty
  • vaccination


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