December 5, 2023

I have a young adult son who does not want to be vaccinated. He has been out of work for a number of years but is now working hard to get his life on the right track and find work. He lives with his long-time girlfriend who has a good job, and they share the expenses (rent, utilities, food) with all of his share coming from me. I was reluctant to give him a deadline to secure a job during the pandemic, but I’m not wealthy and about to retire. And it is clear that there are more options now than there have been in a long time.

He believes in many false claims about vaccinations and insists on doing more research on their effectiveness and safety, as well as the legality of forcing an employer to vaccinate. I recently told him that if he didn’t get his shot, I wouldn’t give him any further support. He replied that I was disregarding his beliefs and trying to persuade him to do something he disagreed with.

I told him that future employers would most likely insist that he get vaccinated and that his unvaccinated condition would have a financial impact by postponing his start date and income until he could be fully vaccinated. I said that his refusal to get the injection would cost money and that I wasn’t sure I would continue to support him during this time between accepting a job and starting work. He was upset, claiming that he had already compromised by agreeing to be vaccinated if an agency required it and that my reluctance to provide support was unfair, especially given his willingness to compromise vaccination.

Who is right here? Name withheld

Your son seems seeing yourself as the equivalent of a conscientious objector. But historically conscientious objectors have distinguished themselves by their willingness to accept hardship in the service of their convictions. People who dug their own rabbit hole against Vax, therefore, deserve no deference as they attempt to deviate from practices and norms that will help protect the wider community.

And note that his objection seems arguably selfish: he believes the vaccine may harm him, even though more than 2.5 billion doses have been safely administered. (If only he had doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness, he would have no reason not to dispel and accept your concerns.) While not an expert, he is so confident of his analytical skills that he would want to oppose a scientific challenge, by consensus that his vaccination is not only in his interest, but also in the interest of his employees.

Your son is especially outraged by your refusal to take on the cost of unnecessary delay in getting a new job which he can avoid by getting vaccinated now. It’s like he thinks he should be rewarded for agreeing to get vaccinated when employment depends on it. But that’s a pragmatic choice. All you do is push him on the date of his vaccination – which would be another such decision. (Provided your son doesn’t secretly plan to postpone employment indefinitely.) If he’s willing to accept an employer’s terms, he should be willing to accept those of his parental benefactor. After all, a parent is not fundamentally obliged to support an adult child financially.

However, since you have allowed him to rely on your generosity, you would do well to withdraw that assistance cautiously or with sufficient warning. I know it seems paradoxical to say that a gift can involve an obligation. But in all possible circumstances it can. Suppose your tractor-owning neighbor has a habit of clearing your driveway every time you are snowed in. Because of their generosity, they are not making any alternative arrangements. If she suddenly has a change of heart, you’ll be worse off than usual after the next snowstorm. That doesn’t bind her to plowing your driveway all her life; it means it is your fault.