Care and Feeding

Should I Kick Out My 19-Year-Old for Refusing the COVID Vaccine?

I’ve tried in the past to educate him, and it hasn’t worked.

A woman sitting with her arm around her teenage son.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Inna Postnikova/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 19, lives with us, and our state just opened up for everyone over 16 to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Obviously, I’m thrilled about this, and I was lucky enough to snag spots for me, my son, and my husband in about two weeks.

Unfortunately, when I told my son about this, he got angry and insisted that he didn’t want to take the vaccine. He has bought into a few conspiracy theories about COVID and thinks the vaccine is unsafe. He is an adult, but he lives in my house. Part of me wants to force an ultimatum that he gets the vaccine or he has to make alternate living arrangements, but I just don’t know if I could do that. I could try to educate him, but I’ve tried in the past, and it hasn’t worked. Can you offer some input?

—Anti-Vax Son

Dear AVS,

You have every right to create rules for your home and to expect any adult who lives there to abide by them. The question is, where might your son go if he doesn’t stay with you, and can you live with that?

At 19, he is certainly old enough to live elsewhere, but is he capable of doing so? I’m assuming that there is a reason that he is still there and no timeline for when he might be expected to leave, perhaps indefinitely. If he does not earn enough to easily relocate, or have the desire or drive to live independently, forcing him to leave might find him with no other option aside from an uncomfortable one—which could be as “safe” as crashing on a friend’s couch, and as precarious as sleeping in a car or outside.

What does life outside of your home look like for this kid, and what does he seem to understand about that? Might an ultimatum rattle him into reconsidering the vaccine? Also, what other sort of misinformation might he be consuming online? Do you see him at risk for also falling into other potentially dangerous conspiracy theories?

Perhaps it is time to reset the expectations of living in your home. Before you can give your son a choice between getting vaccinated or leaving, you should make it mandatory that he spend some time reading accurate information about the COVID vaccines and vaccines in general. Explain that part of the work of keeping a household safe means monitoring what sort of information is being funneled in and addressing inaccuracies as needed, and that part of what you have had to do this year is to understand and consider the efficacy of this vaccine and what it means to your family. If he is unwilling to do so, then it may be time to discuss his next moves.

As it is important to you to keep your household COVID-free, you may reasonably ask that your son either be vaccinated or adhere to strict social distancing rules in order to remain in your home. Hopefully he can come to understand why, but you do not have an obligation to increase your own risk of exposure to new variants of the virus in order to please an adult son who has been fooled by the internet. Best of luck to you.

—Jamilah