We have been inside for way too long. Here in the U.S,, some cities are nearing a full year of social distancing, isolation, and the longest dry spell of some people's lives.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that with the first COVID-19 vaccinations rolling out in the last month or so—not just to nursing homes and elders over 65, but also to healthcare professionals, grocery store workers, politicians, and teachers—people on dating apps are marketing themselves as vaccinated, in hopes of persuading someone to go Mask Off with them.
It's popping up in bios on almost every major dating platform, sometimes with as much detail as when they got their last dose.
Three of the most popular online dating platforms told me they've seen an increase in users referring to vaccinations in their profiles.
Bumble said it's seen "a steady increase in the number of people who have included the word 'vaccine' or 'vaccinated'" on their profiles, beginning after the first vaccines started being administered in the US in December.
A spokesperson for Tinder said it's noticed a 238 percent increase in vaccine mentions in Tinder bios, and "a significant increase starting in November 2020 and continuing to rise in December." That includes all mentions of vaccination, including things like "when i get that second dose it's over for y'all" and "if you believe in the 5 second rule...don't worry about what's in the vaccine."
OkCupid started adding questions specifically around social distancing when this whole mess began: "What’s your ideal virtual date?" and "What's your preferable winter-lockdown date?" to name a few.
It recently added a matching question that asks, "Will you get the Covid-19 vaccine?" which users can answer "yes," "no," "I'm not sure," or "I already have." Users can skip the whole question, or select their own responses—and choose what their ideal match would say.
According to Michael Kaye, public relations manager at OkCupid, 72 percent of respondents said they'd take the vaccine, 3 percent say they've already taken it, and 16 percent are "still deciding," having chosen the "I'm not sure" option. Nine percent are currently opposed to taking the vaccine.
"Luckily, our daters are taking the pandemic very seriously," Kaye said. "In fact, more than 170,000 people on OkCupid said they would cancel a date that didn’t want to socially distance."
A spokesperson for Perry Street Software, which owns gay men's dating apps Scruff and Jack’d, said, "We don't currently have any updates to share on this front but will keep you posted should that change."
But I also gave several of these apps a cursory scroll and swipe myself, to see who's flaunting their vax status as a fuckability factor. On Scruff and Jack’d, where you can change your username whenever you want, I found that searching for usernames like "vaccinated" and "vax" returned several dozen guys, with creative variants like "9"uc Vax'd," "Vax 4 Vax," and "Vaccinated & Horny." Others are using usernames to convey that they're waiting for a vax before meeting up, actually.
"Vaccinated Top" is on one app while "Vaccinated Bttm" is on another—truly, star-crossed lovers.
Grindr didn't respond to a request for comment, but people are doing something similar there, according to friends who use the app: changing their usernames or adding to bios that they're vaccinated and looking for the same.
It makes sense for dating apps to experience this kind of evolution. Queer platforms like Scruff and Grindr have given users the option to reveal their HIV status for years, as well as whether or not they're on PReP.
Across all of these apps and sexual orientations, some people are adding antibody status and that they're getting COVID tested regularly.
While antibodies might imbue people with some immunity for some time, it doesn't mean you're definitely immune from COVID, and while currently results are showing promising protection, a lot more research needs to be done on how long antibody protection lasts or whether someone can still carry and transmit the virus even if they've had it before. And while regular testing is great, only a hard, two-week quarantine before meeting up can really qualify as a safe way to physically interact, sans-mask, with people outside of your household.
For now, it's mostly healthcare workers putting "vaccinated" in their profiles. Of those eligible for the vaccine right now, they're most likely to be the youngest and using dating apps.
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, told me that as a sexual health provider, he takes these things with a grain of salt.
"Most people feel like they are making good decisions around their sexual health, for the most part, and a lot of times people are incredibly shocked when they come into the office and they've contracted chlamydia or gonorrhea," he said. "So, people's external behavior, and their internal assessment, does not always line up."
Abstinence is the safest option, but it isn't realistic in the very long term for most people. Beyond that, it's about discussions with partners, personal safety choices, and testing.
"I do kind of put this idea of vaccination in that milieu of things that people are doing to signal their safety to partners, as well as to pre-screen and signal that that's what they're looking for, so that they can engage in the behaviors that they were able to do before coronavirus," Sandling said.
He also wonders how vaccine distribution might make small, seemingly frivolous activities like meeting up with a romantic partner even more inequitable among the hardest-hit populations. As we know, so far, the vaccine rollout has been a bit of a disaster in general, compounded by the way non-white communities that have been affected the most are now also facing the highest barriers to vaccination access. Studies have shown that loneliness and lack of physical intimacy can have serious health consequences. As the healthcare industry faces its own systemic racism issues, it's easy to see how inequities could widen for activities as simple as online dating.
"Not being able to live and have psychological health is traumatizing for the whole world," Sandling said. "And now, a certain part of the population is getting an off ramp earlier than everyone else."
If you're going to hook up during a pandemic, waiting until you're vaccinated, and then only seeing other vaccinated people, is probably not the worst way to go about it. But as with any vaccine, this one isn't 100 percent guaranteed; the Moderna and Pfizer are both around 95 percent effective. Antibodies and vaccines both invoke a false sense of security that could lead to riskier behavior, and higher chance of getting or spreading the virus. It's also still unclear whether being vaccinated prevents someone from carrying COVID asymptomatically, and passing it to someone who isn't vaccinated.
You also have to take into account that if you're meeting a rando online, they might just not know what the hell they're talking about.
"Not every person that gets the vaccine is as medically literate about what it is they're getting or what happened," Sandling said. "So someone could tell me I'm vaccinated, and they might have had one vaccine [dose], or they might have thought they were getting the coronavirus vaccine and didn't. But I'm not inherently against it."
Right now, it's only a small percentage of people revealing their vaccination status on dating apps, because it's only a small percentage of the whole world who's had their shot. But it's a look into all of our futures: where online profiles and meetup groups could ask people to certify that they've been given their two doses, and where we'll have to keep having more and better conversations about sexual health with our partners.
"With all types of sexual health I think just generally having conversations is better," Sandling said.