On 3 March 2021, President Joe Biden announced new strategies to counter the declining pace of immunisations and reach his goal of partly inoculating 70 per cent of American adults by 4 July. In a series of efforts that followed, the White House essentially highlighted the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccine without actually mandating one. Now joining vaccinated baseball seatings and free Uber rides to vaccination sites is an incentive seeking to promote a ‘hot vax summer’: dating app perks.
Hoping to reach over 50 million users based in US, the White House has teamed up with nine of the largest dating apps—including Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge, Bumble, Badoo, BLK, Chispa, Match and Plenty of Fish—to offer perks to those users who have gotten their COVID-19 shot.
“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” said Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser on the COVID-19 response team, during a virtual briefing with reporters announcing the incentive. Highlighting how vaccination statuses are proven to boost matches by 14 per cent, Slavitt equated vaccines to a “universally attractive quality” when it comes to dating. “These dating apps will now allow vaccinated people to display badges,” the adviser said, roughly sketching up the incentive. “It would show their vaccination status filter specifically to see only people who are vaccinated and offer premium content like boosts and Superswipes.”
Conceived over several weeks of discussions with the apps, Slavitt also added how the promotional push is a “response to the President’s call to action” rather than an official partnership with the nine apps.
All the nine apps involved in the push would offer a wide variety of features to vaccinated users. In the case of Tinder, White House officials have suggested the adoption of a popular incentive the app used during elections, which allowed users to attach stickers to their profiles if they had registered to vote. Similarly, Tinder users will be able to promote their vaccination status with stickers like “Getting Vaxed” and “Vaccines Save Lives.” Users who add these stickers between 2 June and 4 July will also be gifted a ‘Super Like’ that helps raise their chances of receiving desired matches. The platform is also set to add resources from Vaccine.gov to help users figure out the nearest vaccination centre.
As for vaccinated users over on OkCupid, they can choose to add an “I’m Vaccinated” profile badge, get a free profile boost and choose to be paired only with users who have been vaccinated. Hinge, on the other hand, is all set to gift vaccinated users a free ‘Rose’—a feature that sends users to the top of a person’s ‘Like You’ feed. Match, Bumble and Badoo will also enable users to add relevant badges and avail premium features such as Spotlight and Superswipe.
BLK, a popular app for black singles, will add a new “Vaxified” profile badge and give free boosts to its users while Chispa, the largest dating app for Latino singles, will allow users to add an equivalent badge that spells “Vacunado.” Lastly, Plenty of Fish will feature “I Got My Shot” badges starting early June with the incentive of 20 ‘Live!’ credits users can spend on the platform’s streaming feature.
Governments and businesses all across the world are engaging in creative, considerate and non-coercive measures to encourage people to get vaccinated. In terms of locations, such pushes have previously converted museums, public transport, football games and even strip clubs into vaccination centres. On the entertainment front, vaccination efforts have roped in an entire girl group named SNH48 as ambassadors. Don’t even get me started on the list of vaccine freebies. From Krispy Kreme doughnuts to free beer and concert tickets, freebies have essentially opened up a realm of debatable possibilities.
The mix also includes other vaccinated citizens with the aim of curbing anti-vaxxer misinformation while encouraging those on the fence about getting vaccinated. Vaccine selfies, merchandise and online factions like ‘Moderna mafia’ and ‘Pfizer fam’ are all efforts coupled with various TikTok trends on this front. In terms of dating, the industry initially witnessed an influx of self-initiated, pro-vaccine trends—with keywords like “covid vaccinated” and “fully vaccinated” dominating Tinder bios as early as September 2020.
Conversations about proper sanitation were already a turn-on for dating app users since the beginning of the pandemic and the latest trend of vaccination bios seemed to further add on to a user’s oomph factor. Not only did vaccines become the biggest talking point on these apps, but it also quickly evolved into a huge deal-breaker—with insights collected by OkCupid suggesting 40 per cent of millennials and gen Z users cancelling dates with someone who refuses to take the vaccine.
With all of these factors taken into account—coupled with the eagerness of users to get back on the market—the White House’s move is undoubtedly an essential one tapping into all of the right cultural trends and conversations. As major dating apps roll out such vaccine-friendly features, users would also expect other platforms to catch up, in turn fostering a new normal altogether.
Social media is a great advertising tool. It hits us up with new trends and challenges—in turn triggering our ‘fear of missing out’ to persuade us to jump on the bandwagon. Social media’s latest trend involves posting ‘vaxxies’ or ‘vaccination selfies’ in hopes of curbing anti-vaxxer misinformation while encouraging those on the fence about getting vaccinated.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the pioneers of the trend as she filmed her vaccination, broadcasting it on Instagram Live and asking followers to send in questions. “Just like wearing a mask, I would never advise you to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself,” she wrote. Last week, Dolly Parton shared a picture of herself getting the vaccination she helped fund. Captioned “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine,” the 75-year-old country superstar kick-started a cold-shoulder trend, encouraging many to dress strategically for their jab.
With vaccination sites like Javits Center setting up dedicated booths for post-vaccine selfies, it seems like the trend has finally come full-circle. “People being vaccinated are allowed to take selfies of themselves,” clarified a FEMA press person at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College to Curbed, stating the need to seek permission before posting only if a health-care worker was in the frame. At other city-run vaccination sites in New York, staffers hand out equivalents of the “I voted” stickers which read: “I got vaccinated at Citi Field.”
Decked in face masks, shields and rolled-up sleeves, vaxxies are backed by one strong message: vaccines are worth the shot! With anti-vaxxer misinformation rampant on the internet, some users post these selfies with the aim of convincing more anti-vaxxers to ‘change sides’. Others share the moment to signal the dawn of normalcy after a long, hard year with COVID-19.
According to the latest survey by Pew Research Center, 69 per cent of the US public intends to get vaccinated or already has. These numbers are up significantly from 60 per cent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November 2020. With an estimated vaccination level of 50 to 80 per cent of the population to reach the herd immunity threshold, vaccination selfies are believed to work towards a greater societal good.
However, this concept has its fair share of criticisms and downsides. For example, the practice of posting vaccine selfies is considered to be ‘bad form’, given both the number of people who have died from COVID-19 and the fact that the distribution of the vaccine is wildly unequal. Including vaccination cards in these selfies also exposes the user to various scams and identity theft. Scammers can figure out most digits of your social security number with key information like date and place of birth featured on the card. They can open new accounts, claim tax refunds and engage in other identity theft with the information.
Vaxxies are further said to provoke frustration and major FOMO, which can become problematic. Comments along the lines of ‘Good for you!’ and ‘So happy for you!’ are common variants of vaccine FOMO as followers who haven’t been vaccinated yet envy those of their age who have. This builds a highly-debated social media tension, in turn encouraging vaccine vultures who stalk vaccination sites for leftover doses to jump on the trend themselves.
Despite vaccine selfies’ ‘narcissistic’ status, photography of inoculations has had a long history of positive public-health messaging. In 1956, Elvis Presley was photographed receiving the polio vaccine—renewing public enthusiasm especially among teenagers who were at the highest risk yet reluctant to get the shot. CDC further believes it to be a declaration of hope—listing “making your decision to get vaccinated visible and celebrating it” as one of the six ways to help build vaccine confidence.
And as Yoo Jung Kim, MD sums up the trend for Psychology Today: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the thousands of vaccination photos amplifies the same basic message: We’re on the front lines, we’re getting the novel vaccination to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our patients—will you?”