As of right now, there are few hotter topics than the coveted coronavirus vaccine. Twelve months into the pandemic, and three months since the world’s first fully trialled and tested COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in the United Kingdom, everyone’s talking about how, when and whether they’re getting the jab. Particularly, it seems, on dating apps.
A spokesperson for Tinder told Motherboard in January that they’d identified a 238 percent increase in vaccine mentions in user’s bios, noting "a significant increase starting in November 2020 and continuing to rise in December." A Bumble spokesperson similarly reported "a steady increase in the number of people who have included the word 'vaccine' or 'vaccinated'" on their profiles, beginning in December as the first vaccines started being administered in the US.
OkCupid, meanwhile, added a question to their dating platform that asked "Will you get the Covid-19 vaccine?", with possible answers being "yes," "no," "I'm not sure," or "I already have." Users could skip the whole question, select their own responses, and choose what their ideal match would say.
In that case, a willingness to get jabbed appeared to translate to a higher success rate on the app.
OkCupid spokesperson Michael Kaye told the New York Times that those who claimed to have already received the COVID vaccine were being liked at double the rate of users who said they weren’t interested. “Basically,” he said, “getting the vaccine is the hottest thing you could be doing on a dating app right now.”
Kaye later told Insider that 40 percent of millennial and Gen Z-aged OkCupid users would cancel a date with someone who wouldn't take a vaccine. He also noted that the platform saw a 137 percent increase in mentions of "vaccine" on users’ profiles, globally, between November and January. “Not only is the vaccine becoming the biggest talking point on dating apps, it's actually becoming a huge deal-breaker,” he observed.
This seems to be good news for those lucky enough to have received their COVID jab—but it comes with its share of problems and complexities. For one, people can say whatever they want, and there’s no telling whether someone is actually inoculated against the virus or not. Even if someone has received the vaccination, efficacy isn’t 100 percent guaranteed, and it’s still unclear whether being vaccinated prevents someone from carrying COVID asymptomatically. Being vaccinated could invoke a false sense of security that could lead to riskier behavior.
Then there’s the problem of vaccine accessibility, and the broader related issues of systemic inequality. As Motherboard previously noted, there are some concerns about how vaccine distribution might make small, seemingly frivolous activities like meeting up with a romantic partner even more inequitable among the hardest-hit populations—non-white communities, for example, or those from a lower socioeconomic background.
"Not being able to live and have psychological health is traumatizing for the whole world," said Marcus Sandling, a physician specializing in infectious diseases, HIV, and Hepatitis C, as well as clinical director of sexual health at Callen-Lorde Community Health. "And now, a certain part of the population is getting an off ramp earlier than everyone else."
These issues notwithstanding, there are others who believe greater visibility around vaccination status on dating apps could set a positive trend and provide an incentive for people—particularly young people who might not otherwise feel affected by the risk of contracting COVID-19—to go and get the vaccine.
"I guess from a public health perspective, dating apps could help win the war on the virus, because people will go: if I want to date somebody, then I better be vaccinated," Ivo Vlaev, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School in England, told Insider. "The more governments and other organizations require vaccination status, the more we are going to require from each other.”
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