Allowing people to post their coronavirus vaccination status on their dating app profiles could fuel division and even alienate people from getting the jab, a Government adviser has warned.
From this week, dating apps including Tinder, Hinge and Bumble are allowing users to add a badge to their profiles to show that they have been vaccinated against coronavirus.
Some are also offering badges which users can adopt to show their support for the roll-out even if they have not been jabbed.
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Many apps are offering incentives for doing so, including bonus features in the apps. The scheme has been created in collaboration with the Government to encourage young people to get vaccinated.
But Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the scheme could cause discrimination against those who have been unable to get the vaccine and further mistrust of the roll-out.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Prof Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London and also a member of Independent Sage, told i.
“Firstly, a lot of people haven’t been offered the vaccine yet, and there are a number of people who can’t have it for medical reasons or don’t have easy access. Some have difficulty getting time off work, or difficulty getting to a vaccination centre.
“Also, especially amongst some black and ethnic minority groups, there has been a historical distrust of Governments and health services as a result of abuses in other countries at other times.
“And so it’s not surprising that the data shows that it is the most disadvantaged who are the least likely to get vaccinated. By dividing the population up into the vaccinated and unvaccinated you’re basically further increasing inequality.”
Prof Michie also warned the measure could be counterproductive, putting off those who already have mistrust around the vaccine roll-out.
“There is some evidence from the US that when they started trying to incentivise people it actually had the reverse effect. One of the reasons people are not getting vaccinated is due to mistrust. If you begin rewarding people, there is a concern that it could increase mistrust, reduce vaccination rates and stigmatise those not vaccinated,” she said.
There is no way for the apps to verify whether those who claim to have had the jab have actually done so, which means people may “abuse the system” to access the bonus features or make themselves seem more attractive online, Prof Michie said.
“It’s giving incentives to those who say they’ve been vaccinated – not those who have been,” Prof Michie said.
Beth Murray, 22, who has used Tinder, Bumble and Hinge in recent years, said that while she supported encouraging people to get vaccinated, the scheme was “pretty inappropriate”.
“I’m based up in Scotland so I’ve applied for my jab and I’m just waiting on it. I don’t think it’s very fair that we’re now being left behind in something that is totally out of our control,” she said.
Ms Murray said she feared discrimination for those unable to get inoculated, “particularly when the last year has made meeting new people virtually impossible so more people than ever are relying on dating apps to try to get back to some form of dating life.”
“I also don’t doubt that some biase would come into play and some users would avoid swiping right for people with medical conditions.”
“I do think that attempting to encourage people to get the vaccine is a good thing – I just think perhaps they could have done it in a different way that didn’t require the public profiles to be weaker without the addition,” she added.
However, Professor Sir Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester, praised the scheme as an innovative way to drive up vaccinations among young people.
“I think its really important we get the 20 and 30 somethings to get vaccinated, and if dating sites can incentivise them then I’m all for it,” he told i.
“The only downsides would be those young people who can’t take vaccine… but if you have a health problem that stops you from taking the vaccine then people will understand that.”
Prof Cooper said that while he did not think it would change the minds of those young people who were strongly against the vaccine roll-out, it could sway those who were on the fence.
“Its saying to that community, look at all these people prepared to sign up,” he said.
“The anti-authority types, what we call the counterdependents, will do that regardless. But it may be that for people on the border who are a little bit worried, I think if they see many of their peer group signing up in big numbers saying I’ve been vaccinated, it might influence the waivers to do it.”
“I think if I was somebody dating in my 20s and 30s, I’d want to say I had taken it on grounds that people would say, that’s a responsible person,” he added.
“Will they lie? Some might, and feel the social pressure to say they’ve been vaccinated, but the majority won’t. Anti-vaxxers wont put [the badge on their profile] because they’re in principle against taking vaccine.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.