In its latest political gamble, the Biden administration is hoping that the power of dating apps can be harnessed to slow the spread of infectious disease for once. On Friday, the White House announced it was partnering with online matchmaking companies to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Under this new plan, dating app and website users who've already received the vaccine, and are now on the prowl for a partner, will get special badges or "stickers" to signal their immunization status to prospective matches. To sweeten the pot, companies will also be offering free premium upgrades to the vaccinated in the form of "Super Likes" (Tinder), "SuperSwipes" (Bumble), and other means of boosting the visibility of one's profile.
Participating companies include Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble, Badoo, BLK, Hinge, Chispa, Match, and Plenty of Fish.
"We believe that it's particularly important to reach young people where they are in an effort to get them vaccinated," said Andy Slavitt, one of Biden's COVID-19 advisers, at a briefing today, adding that the new dating app features will "help people meet people who have that universally attractive quality: They've been vaccinated from COVID-19."
The companies themselves are doing what they can to hype this new partnership. A press release from Tinder notes that mentions of vaccines on its app have increased 800 percent since the start of the pandemic. OkCupid has declared being vaccinated the new "tall, dark, and handsome" in a blog post. The company said that it will rely on users to self-certify that they've been vaccinated.
This dating app initiative from the White House is only the latest carrot being offered to those who've yet to take advantage of free COVID-19 vaccines.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced last week that the state would run a lottery to award five vaccinated adult residents $1 million each, paid for by federal COVID-19 relief funds. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is running similar sweepstakes with a maximum prize of $400,000. New York is topping them both with a vaccine lottery that will shower the winner with $5 million. Oregon announced its own vaccine lottery today, too.
Ohio health officials report that vaccinations are up 28 percent since the launch of its "Vax-a-Million" effort, according to CNN.
Other states are getting even more inventive. Throughout the month of May, New Jersey is running a "shot and a beer" campaign whereby Garden State residents can get a free beer at participating breweries by showing proof of vaccination. Beer and wine trade associations in Washington state plan to launch similar "pints for pokes" initiatives in June.
When considering the long list of things governments could be doing to get shots in arms, voluntary partnerships and positive incentives like the new dating app initiative or state-run lotteries seem relatively unobjectionable.
They're certainly better than mandated "vaccine passports" or legal requirements to get vaccinated. Nevertheless, it's hard not to see this latest initiative from the White House as a bit pushy and invasive.
COVID-19 vaccines are free and conveniently available to anyone who wants them. They've proven spectacularly effective at preventing deaths and serious symptoms from the disease.
People who have yet to get their shot are thus only endangering themselves. That might not be a wise choice, but it is a personal one. There should be a corresponding limit to how much effort the government devotes to encouraging the vaccine-hesitant/apathetic to protect themselves.