In just the past week or two, the addition of some form of “vaccinated” to Scruff’s screen names has doubled. This trend is mirrored on other dating sites, too. An OkCupid spokesperson says the service saw a 137 percent increase in mentions of “vaccine” from November to January, adding that it’s “the hottest thing you can do right now.”
Not surprisingly those screen names caught my eye against the sea of the more commonplace ones like “dates and chat,” “NC farmer” and — look out! — “Heartless.” As a single man and someone who has not yet been vaccinated, I wondered: Is this a new way to say, “Pick me! I’m safe”?
OkCupid told me that its users who answer “yes” as opposed to “no” to their matching question, “Will you get the covid-19 vaccine?” are being liked at a rate of up to 25 percent higher. Health issues actually have a history of being embedded in dating profiles, and can include someone’s cancer history, HIV status or the acronym “DDF” (for “drug and disease-free,” which covers drug use and sexually transmitted infections).
Until the recent deployment of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, I’d been living a covid-careful existence when it came to my dating life. Now that people are getting vaccinated, I wonder: “Are things about to change?” And is that a good or bad thing?
Examining Scruff and other dating app profiles more closely, it became apparent that many of the users, like the guy who tapped me, are health-care professionals trying to influence others to get the vaccine when they have the opportunity.
A physician made the case succinctly in his profile: “I have received the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19! Get vaccinated when it becomes available to you.” Lorne Farovitch, an infectious-disease doctor in New York (who agreed to go on the record), uses “vaccinated” as part of his profile name. He wrote in his profile that he sees himself as “a mini superhero that protects [people] from the little invisible monster” and told me he added his status to help allay fears and distrust about the vaccine. On Tinder, a registered nurse wrote in her profile: “All I’ll be talking about for 2 weeks is how I got my covid vaccine.”
Joshua Schiffer, an infectious-disease doctor and researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told me how influential role models, such as those two physicians, can be on other people’s behavior.
“I’m very supportive of people who are proud of having been vaccinated, advertise it, and sell it to their friends and family,” he says.
Other women and men promoting their vaccine status on dating sites have a different kind of advertisement in mind. “Covid vaccinated” said when I contacted him for this story that he thinks his new profile name could be helpful down the road. “[It might] make people feel less stressed about having sex with me during a pandemic.” “Vaccinated x 2” (meaning both shots) texted: “People miss sex very much, but they’re also afraid, and are looking for a way to find a compromise,” wrongly implying that his fully vaccinated status makes him a safe bet as a dating partner. (Keep reading for the details of why that is.).
Farovitch says he has been getting more messages since “adding ‘vaccine’ to my name.” But he says he doesn’t plan “on hooking up with anyone anytime soon [because] we still don’t know if vaccinated people can transmit the disease.” Instead, he plans to remain celibate. That can be a hard call for some: Studies have shown that the lack of physical intimacy and loneliness can have serious health consequences.
I did have to laugh — and agree — when I read a profile on OkCupid that noted “Dr. Fauci is the bomb!”
Actually, there’s a lot we still don’t know about covid-19 and the vaccines, which is why relying on a person’s vaccination status to decide whether to become intimate is not a smart move, experts say. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines now in use in the United States boast a 94 and 95 percent effectiveness rate, respectively (one to two weeks after the second shot). I told Schiffer that sounded pretty good to me and he replied “probably” — but that means 5 to 6 percent of those who are vaccinated can still become infected and are “presumably contagious,” even if asymptomatic. And then there’s the concern about how new variants might reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines.
But “the golden question,” Schiffer says, “is whether the 95 percent who are protected against developing symptomatic covid-19 are also protected against infection.” In other words, the vaccine may prevent them from getting sick, but they may still be infectious and able to pass the virus on to others. Which is why public health experts say that even once vaccinated individuals should still wear masks and observe social distancing outside their social “pod.”
Admittedly, all these vaccine calculations are not very romantic.
Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease expert and epidemiologist who is also a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, an organization representing health-care professionals specializing in infectious diseases, is blunt in her advice. “Having sexual contact with someone whom you do not know, even if they have been vaccinated, is a risky decision and can put you both at high risk of getting covid-19.”
She urges people to learn the full picture of an individual’s “covid-19 practices,” including masking, social distancing and other ways that they socialize.
There are other unknowns, too: How well will the vaccines work against the new, more contagious variants, especially the one first identified in South Africa? How long will the vaccines’ effectiveness last? Is the protection from one dose sufficient?
Until we have answers to these questions, Schiffer says, “some caution is warranted.” For instance, if both people are vaccinated, a situation likely to become more common in the months ahead, Schiffer recommended gradually merging pods and, if one of both people work indoors with multiple individuals or has had any risk over the last 10 days such as airplane travel, to get tested.
These questions don’t just apply to dating app usage but to all our social interactions.
Recently, I was approached through one dating app by a guy who mistakenly thought his vaccinated status gave him immunity, making him a good candidate for in-person dating. He actually boasted, “I’m vaccinated.” I replied, “That means you’re [mostly] protected. Not necessarily others.” Apparently, he didn’t like my answer — and blocked me.
So I will proceed with caution when it comes to intimacy, especially as I remain one of the unvaccinated. Still, given worries that vaccine hesitancy will keep the pandemic around longer, it’s encouraging to see the OkCupid data showing that users who report already being vaccinated are being liked at double the rate of users who say they haven’t.
If forced to choose between the two users, “Heartless” and “Fully Vaccinated,” I’m reminded of the many perils of love and sex