Care and Feeding

My Sister Is Gaslighting the Whole Family Over COVID

I’m afraid it’s going to work on our parents.

A woman looks quizzically at a bandaid and COVID vaccine sticker.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

This may be a dumb question, but COVID vaccines are still important, right? My parents live with my family, and my sister lives nearby. My parents have been involved with all of our kids (5, 5, and 8) since birth, and we spend a lot of time together. I got my kid the vaccine basically the minute it was available. My sister kept saying her kids were on a “waiting list.” But when my dad finally pushed her on it, she said she wasn’t getting her kids vaccinated, she and her husband weren’t getting boosters, and as long as we were vaxxed and boosted, it shouldn’t make a difference. She also pointed out that vaxxed people are still getting COVID a lot. My dad said he didn’t feel comfortable around unvaccinated people, especially kids in school and daycare (he has a lung condition, and his doctor is concerned enough that he’s already gotten my dad a second booster). My sister blew up and said she wasn’t going to be forced into vaccinating her kids, and she’s cut the whole family off. My mom is wondering if she’s right and if we’d be fine as long as our shots are up to date. That doesn’t sound right to me. Should we hold firm?

— COVID Conundrum (Still!)

Dear COVID Conundrum,

Your poor mom. All she wants is to be able to spend time with her children and grandchildren, and who can blame her? But you (and your father!) are right, and your sister is dead wrong. Her unvaccinated kids are much more likely to infect others than vaccinated kids are. Ditto the unboosted adults. Yes, many of us who are fully vaxxed and boosted are getting breakthrough infections of the omicron variant anyway, but we’re not getting as sick as the unvaccinated. That’s not an argument in favor of skipping that crucial third shot, and it’s a terrible argument against vaccinating children. Especially since your father is particularly vulnerable. Contracting COVID could land him in the hospital. It could kill him.

Your sister is being selfish and callous, I’m sorry to say. I hope she changes her mind and does everything she can to protect herself and her family, and to protect your very vulnerable father (not to mention the community at large). But as long as she clings, like far too many others, to convictions that aren’t backed up by either science or good sense, you do have to stand firm.

While you’re doing that, please also keep in mind how upset, distraught, and sad this is making your mother. That’s why she’s “wondering.” Make it a priority to say and do everything you can to help her be at peace with this rupture in your family. I hope very much that it turns out to be a temporary one.

— Michelle

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