Last week, copy editor Sarah Kelly went viral for sharing a screenshot on her Twitter account: a text conversation between her and a guy she’d been dating. He was politely rejecting her, in maybe the most “2021” way possible. “Ur real cool,” he’d written, “however I found someone who is also Vaccinated!! So I think we both wanna minimize our bubble n stay safer in these trying times!!!”
The text was part of a much larger trend. After all, in these “trying times,” billing yourself as “vaccinated” has become a major coup on the dating scene. Nowhere is this clearer than on the apps, where, over the last few weeks, users have begun proudly listing their vaccine status in their bios. On Tinder, for example, there are already countless people declaring their COVID-secure cachet, with the app reporting a 258 percent increase in vaccine mentions between last September and December. OkCupid and Bumble have also seen a steady increase, while on Grindr, the info is getting top billing (users are adopting names like “Vaccinated Top,” “A Is for Antibodies,” “Get Vaccine” and “Vax 4 Vax” to head up their profiles). In the words of OkCupid spokesman, Michael Kaye, getting the vaccine is “the hottest thing you could be doing on a dating app right now.”
It makes a lot of sense. We’re battling a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million people in the U.S. alone, so listing your vaccine status at least shows you’re health-conscious. It also signals that, in theory, you’re free to have non-socially distanced dates with other vaccinated people, without having to worry about contracting COVID. After months of awkward video dates, park walks and criminalized casual sex, it’s a welcome change. “As soon as I get my vaccine, I’m 100 percent putting it in my Tinder bio,” says Rose, 29, from London. “Why wouldn’t you? We’ve been trapped inside our houses for so long, I feel like I’m in prison. I’m going insane. I want to get out and enjoy life again and not feel guilty about it.”
For Grindr users, of course, these kinds of health disclosures aren’t such a radical development. Users have been able to share their HIV status on the app, as well as whether they’re on PrEP, for years. It’s a standard, time-saving practice, encouraging people to be upfront and responsible with any potential partners. “I’ll be putting my vaccine status in my bio, just like I do with PrEP,” says Greg, a Grindr user from New York. “I won’t be doing it to be braggy or anything, but to speed up communication. I’ll be much more likely to hook up with someone once I know that they’ve been vaccinated too.”
Sharing this information also helps weed out any anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers or COVID deniers, who still make up a significant slice of dating app users. “I can see why some people might think [vaccine statuses] are a classist ‘flex’ type of thing, but having compatible lifestyle values and opinions is crucial,” adds Mark, another (pseudonymous) Grindr user. “You want to filter out any anti-science types.”
It also gets you matches. According to OkCupid, users who indicate that they’ve been vaccinated end up being liked at “double the rate” of users who say they’re not interested in having it. When I ask Steven, a Grindr user who was vaccinated in trials last year, about whether he noticed any difference after putting it in his bio, he confirmed OkCupid’s findings: “Within minutes, I was having actual conversations instead of just ‘taps.’” That said — and although he’s had quite a few dates with people who are both vaccinated and COVID-negative — he’s still trying to be cautious. “We all kept masks on, but it made the last few months a lot less stressful and isolated.”
He has plenty of reasons to be cautious. For starters, the science behind the myriad vaccines is still new: We may know that they prevent severe COVID cases, but we don’t know how long for. The virus is also changing constantly, producing new variants — like the most recent in South Africa — which may be more resistant to certain vaccines. There’s also, crucially, very little evidence on whether the treatment actually prevents people from carrying and transmitting COVID to others. “None of the vaccines provide protection from virus entry,” clarifies immunologist Vineeta Bal. “Vaccines aren’t ‘transmission blocking’: They come into action after transmission.”
This means that people who have been vaccinated can still technically transmit the virus, just with less efficiency, because the “vaccine-mediated immune response” will kick in and rapidly restrict further replication of the virus. “A vaccination doesn’t guarantee that the person won’t spread the virus to others,” explains Bal.
Zania Stamataki, an immunologist from the University of Birmingham, echoes these sentiments. When I ask her about how much safer these vaccinations will make dating, she says it’s still far too early to tell. This year, she says, is more about building the “foundations” of COVID defense, and ensuring that people have “up-to-date” vaccines that can respond efficiently to any new strains of the virus. By this logic, there’s still a long way to go before life goes back to normal — even if you have been vaccinated.
You also can’t always be sure whether someone is lying about their vaccination status. Until apps offer proper authentication, it may be hard to prove who is telling the truth, as vaccine selfies and certificates are surprisingly easy to fake. And if you do decide to share your certificate online — which many people have apparently been doing — you could be opening yourself up to fraud and identity theft. This behavior was called out by the Federal Trade Commission last week, who tried to warn people off sharing such highly personal information on social media. (“Please — don’t do that!,” they implored.)
Not to mention, there are legitimate concerns about the wider implications of introducing a “vaccine-classified” system. Splitting app users — and society more generally — into different camps depending on their antibody status could create a mutated new “COVID” class system. After all, not everyone will have access to the vaccine, for various reasons — the rollout might not go smoothly, or certain marginalized communities may face more barriers in terms of access (e.g., one study found that Black people are significantly less likely to be vaccinated than white people, despite being a more at-risk group). By making this information the centerpiece of your dating profile, you may be asserting a kind of elitist, “vaccine” privilege, excluding others who haven’t been fortunate enough to get the same access.
In other words, sharing your vaccine status on Tinder ultimately isn’t the flex you think it is. Rather than being a free pass to pre-2020 normality, it’s just a first step — with many more to come. COVID is still completely unknown territory, so until the majority of us are immune from it, even the vaccinated among us are still at risk of transmission.
Your best bet, then? Wait to take your shot until everyone else has had theirs.