Updated: May 22, 2021 1:00:14 pm
It took a nonzero amount of awkwardness, but the Biden administration highlighted a new plan Friday to encourage more people to get vaccinated: an effort by popular dating apps to encourage pent-up young singles to promote their vaccination status to would-be right-swipers.
“We have finally found the one thing that makes us all more attractive: a vaccination,” Andy Slavitt, one of President Joe Biden’s top coronavirus advisers, said gamely during a virtual briefing for reporters, although he made clear he had been put up to it.
Minutes later, he was asked a follow-up question about the dating sites. “I suppose I have to take that question, huh?” he said. “All you, Andy,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general.
With other initiatives encouraging vaccinations and a maskless summer tantalizingly close, the administration has enlisted celebrities like Ryan Seacrest and Eva Longoria to spread the message. But to sing the praises of dating apps, the White House chose Slavitt as the face d’amour, and he introduced the news with all the enthusiasm of a driver’s ed instructor.
“According to one of the sites, OkCupid, people who display their vaccination status are 14% more likely to get a match,” Slavitt said as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert and a bit of a sex symbol in some circles, appeared to suppress laughter. Slavitt added, “In all seriousness, people are interested in other things in life besides their vaccine.”
Highlighting the work of technology companies that can reach Americans where they are — on their phones — has been a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s efforts to combat concerns about vaccine access and hesitancy, and to remind people who have not yet received a shot that doing so could help the country emerge from the pandemic. Providers are administering about 1.83 million doses a day on average, a decrease of about 46% from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to federal data.
This month, the president said that Uber and Lyft, two of the country’s largest ride-sharing services, would provide free rides to vaccination sites beginning Monday and through July 4. Other efforts, like vaccinated-only baseball seating and preferential gym access, are highlighting the benefits of a shot, without actually mandating one, and establishing two classes of Americans, vaccinated and unvaccinated.
On Friday, the latest message from the White House was, Get a shot, get a date.
Slavitt said that popular apps like Tinder, OkCupid, and Hinge — along with a suite of others, including BLK, which targets Black singles, and Chispa, marketed to Latinos — will add features meant to reach a population of young people who may have been largely isolated from each other during the pandemic, and will promote the idea that receiving a shot could help users with their intentions. Tinder plans to introduce a feature to help users find nearby vaccination sites.
Slavitt said on Friday that the effort, which could reach over 50 million people in the United States, was not an official partnership with the companies. But the White House played a significant role in rallying them to participate, an administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to comment publicly about the effort.
Over about two weeks of discussions, White House officials talked to Tinder about adapting a popular program it used during the election that allowed users to attach stickers to their profiles if they registered to vote or voted early. By the time the White House called, the company was already considering using vaccination markers and immediately agreed to the addition, the official said.
Most, if not all, of the apps are expected to use an honor system. The new features announced on Friday vary from app to app, and most services should make them available by Monday, a White House spokesperson said.
The official said that the White House had sought help from the companies because of their reach with younger adults — many of whom became eligible last month for a shot and may not yet be fully vaccinated. That group is also crucial to Biden’s goal of at least partly vaccinating 70% of adults before July 4. More than 60% of adults have received at least one shot, according to a New York Times database, but healthy young adults — called “young invincibles” in health policy circles — have always been a tough get for preventive care or health insurance.
The effort by dating apps plugs into a cultural conversation over how Americans — particularly the young, vaccinated and frisky — can approach getting together again after so many months of being told doing so could be unsafe.
A slew of advertisements hailing the end of the pandemic have featured sloppy kissers in barely there, skin-skimming fabrics. People seeking Instagram-ready summer vacations are snapping up rental homes at a record pace. As vaccination rates rise, so do the number of personal grooming appointments — so much so that “vaxxed and waxed” is already an unofficial motto of the summer.
But with all that is still unknown about navigating a mask-free dating scene, apps are seeking to facilitate interactions among a growing number of people who say they would prefer to date others who are vaccinated.
Tinder, which has some 7 million users, said it recently conducted a survey that reported more than half of its younger users were interested only in dating someone who had received their shots. So an “I’m vaccinated” badge is the (decidedly unsubtle) option offered to vaccinated users, along with a few premium options that will be free to use. BLK will add a “Vaxified” badge, and vaccinated Match users will be able to “boost” their profiles more visible to a wider range of people.
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