Attentive lover. Passionate about work. Empathy in spades. Facial hair.
For months, Sara Jablow has sought a hard-to-find combination of personality traits in prospective boyfriends. Now, however, after nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, one elusive characteristic is beginning to transcend all others for her: vaccination status.
It’s not that Jablow is picky; the 34-year-old winemaker from Napa, California, has been on about a half dozen Zoom dates and several in-real-life dates since she ended her last long-term relationship in June. This time around, however, the entire search is different; she received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in late January, and she’s looking for a partner who is either vaccinated or interested in getting vaccinated soon.
“It’s all about the vaccine for me now,” said Jablow, who was vaccinated early because of her job in California’s agriculture industry. “I’m pretty straightforward about it: I believe in science, and if someone isn’t interested (in the vaccine) or they don’t believe in (vaccines in general), I’m done.”
Jablow certainly isn’t the only vaccinated single person looking for safer dating these days.
Matchmakers have reported seeing intense demand for partners who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna shots. Dating sites have recorded dramatic upticks in mentions of the word vaccine. Even if you eavesdrop on masked and distanced hangouts at public parks, it seems everyone is desperately seeking someone who has gotten injected.
“Getting vaccinated or being open to getting it is the hottest thing you could do right now,” said Michael Kaye, spokesperson for the dating site OKCupid.
OKCupid users view vaccines as the “light at the end of the tunnel,” Kaye said.
“It’s not only good for your health and safety to be open to getting the vaccine, but it’s good for your dating life as well.”
Demand on the rise
The recent spikes in demand make perfect sense. As health care systems administer dose after dose of COVID vaccines — as of February 8, more than 42 million doses have been administered in the US — those who get vaccinated are far less likely to fall ill with COVID-19.
No, getting the shots isn’t a magic bullet; researchers currently are trying to determine the extent to which vaccine recipients can transmit the virus. But their efficacy rates are high. Vaccination clearly has benefits, and in the world of dating, those benefits are in high demand.
Exactly how much interest is vaccination status generating these days? That depends on whom you ask for information.
At OKCupid, Kaye said he saw a 25% increase in mentions of “vaccine” on site profiles over the month of January, and a 63% increase between November and January. He added that users who answer “Yes” to a standard profile question, “Will you get the COVID-19 vaccine?” are being “liked” at a rate of up to 25% higher than those who answer “No” or choose not to answer.
Other dating sites reported even more encouraging stats.
Dating site Tinder recorded an astronomical 258% increase in profile mentions of the word “vaccine” between September and December of last year, said Dana Balch, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based company.
“What this tells me is that the notion of becoming immune to the virus has sparked conversation around a cultural moment that’s on everyone’s mind,” she said. “We expect interest (in vaccines) only to grow.”
Admittedly, at this stage of vaccine rollout, these numbers can be a bit skewed. Most of the people who have been vaccinated are health care professionals, first responders, essential workers and people over the ages of 65 or 70. In most of these cases, people are likely too busy or anxious to prioritize dating right now.
Bela Gandhi, dating coach and founder of Smart Dating Academy, a matchmaking service in Chicago, said that as more people get vaccines and share photos of themselves getting shots on social media, the more important vaccination status will become.
“I think there are going to be seismic shifts in the way we think about this,” she said.
Gandhi envisioned a scenario where single people declare COVID-19 vaccination status the same way some declare they are taking prophylactic medication to prevent the transmission of HIV.
“Dating is about developing an emotional connection and making sure a person doesn’t have red flags,” she continued. “Knowing that someone has gotten a COVID vaccine certainly eliminates one of the biggest red flags of the time.”
What vaccination really means
Technically speaking, Gandhi is correct — on the most basic level, vaccination status indicates whether a prospective paramour received the shot. On another level, a person’s willingness to broadcast vaccination status reveals a lot about that person’s morality and their relationship to issues such as science, politics and the greater good.
Vaccination status is a way of “understanding someone’s relationship to trusted institutions,” said Jennifer Reich, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Denver. Vaccines mark a certain faith in public health and desire to participate in community solutions, she said, noting this can be important to people in the same way that certain kinds of causes have been important in dating over time.
“People seek people who share their values, and this could be its own symbolic marker,” said Reich, who has specialized in researching attitudes about vaccinations for years.
The COVID-19 vaccine allows you to control your own exposure to the virus, but beyond contributing to eventual herd immunity, it says little about your willingness to control the exposure of others, said Rachel DeAlto, chief dating officer at Match.com.
“The vaccine is about protecting yourself, while masks are about protecting other people,” she said. “The conversation about masks is more difficult.”
DeAlto added that post-vaccination dating, like COVID-era dating overall, comes down to risk tolerance.
“Someone who gets vaccinated might say, ‘I’ll take that chance and start making out with people again,'” she explained. “Others will not be comfortable unless they have double protection between them and the person they’re dating. Before you get back out there, you need to figure out where you stand, and be very clear about it from the beginning.”
The flip side of this equation is that when two vaccinated people get together, the risks to them are almost nil, said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician in Baltimore and visiting professor of public health at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
“If your grandparents have been vaccinated and they want to meet for dinner with their neighbors, so long as the neighbors also have been vaccinated, they can have dinner indoors because they’re not a danger to each other,” Wen said. “The same applies to dating — when you date someone else who’s fully vaccinated there’s very minimal danger to both parties involved.”
Caveats to remember
Whatever value we place on vaccination, it’s important to remember that current COVID-19 vaccines are no panacea.
First, both current vaccines require two shots, and even then, they take a couple weeks to work.
Second, in the absence of an official vaccination card or a social media photo, it might be difficult for people to prove to potential partners that they have received the shot.
Third — and perhaps most important — while the vaccines have proven to be 94% to 95% effective in preventing virus symptoms in patients who receive the shots, researchers are still trying to figure out what risk vaccine recipients might pose to others. A recent British study — one that had not been peer reviewed — suggested it is possible that those who have a degree of immunity against the virus may still be able to carry it in their nose or throat and therefore transmit it.
Complicating the situation is that some of the newer strains of COVID-19 have been found to be more transmissible than the original, which could pose additional health risks.
What’s more, case counts are still high, which increases everyone’s chances of encountering the virus.
The ramifications of these data points are clear: Just because you get the vaccine doesn’t mean you should stop wearing face coverings or practicing social distancing. It also means that vaccine recipients probably should think twice before they start being intimate with people who have yet to get the shots.
Gandhi, the dating coach, said that as people get vaccinated and dive back into the dating pool, communicating mindfulness about these issues can go a long way.
“Awareness of the big picture shows you take it seriously,” she said. “It’s signaling, in the best way.”
As for Jablow, the winemaker, vaccination status has changed nothing — especially when it comes to the way she prepares for potentially exposing others.
She still wears face coverings. She still keeps her distance. She still avoids going inside the grocery store at all costs. Jablow went so far as to say that she’s even more cautious about her health after receiving the vaccine — out of necessity.
“If I were to go on a date with someone who was unvaccinated, pick up COVID, and then give it to someone else, I don’t know if I could sleep at night or live with myself,” she said. “It felt like I won the lottery when I learned I was going to get the vaccine. It’s a responsibility. It’s an honor. I can’t screw it up. I won’t.”