Swipe right if jabbed: Is giving users the right to reveal their vaccination status discriminatory?

Reports talk about how the syringe emoji is the new winky-face. But is this criterion a move that could outcast people?
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Rhea often finds herself skimming through online dating apps after hours. On regular days, she also fixes up a meeting with someone after work. However, owing to the unusual times we're living in, Rhea skips the conventional coffee dates and prefers a virtual one. The first couple of people she dismisses on the app have usual things on her bio. She then comes across a profile that catches her attention. "Wow. A doctor!" she thinks out loud. Dog-lover? Check. Prefers coffee over tea? Great! Doesn't like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? -- "No problem," she thinks because she believes it may still work. She squints to get a better look at the last pointer on his bio -- Covid vaccinated.

And while that may come as a surprise to many, living in the dystopian times we're living in -- it is no longer a random thing to see on dating apps. In fact, a report published by The Guardian, UK, has cited how an increasing number of people on dating apps like Tinder, OK Cupid, Bumble, and Coffee Meets Bagel are divulging information on whether they are vaccinated or are planning to take the jab against Covid-19. Several have had mixed opinions on it, and there are many who have debated that it is a discriminatory move. However, research by London-based Elate Date has revealed how 60 per cent of people on its platform did not want to date anti-vaxxers.

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"It is a strange move, undoubtedly, but I don't think it was necessary," says Rohan Sharma (name changed on request), a 28-year-old business analyst. Rohan, who lives away from home, tells The Bridge Chronicle how dating apps are his only outlet for socialising. "I spend a lot of time at work, and I don't have many friends in the city. Sometimes I find myself meeting people off Bumble only to have a conversation or a cup of coffee," he states. But since the announcement of the Covid-19 pandemic, he hasn't been able to catch up as often as he'd hoped.

"I couldn't find a lot of people to meet up -- even after the lockdown was called off. And since I'm not qualified to be an essential worker, I'm not yet eligible for a jab," he adds. Rohan believes that if vaccination becomes a criterion on the app, he may not be able to socialise for a while. "Perhaps it isn't a lot to worry about -- but it definitely sets you apart for a while and outcasts you -- whether you like it or not," he states.

Furthermore, the report mentions how the syringe emoji is now considered the new winky face in the US -- and a double-dosed selfie garners more attention than a regular profile would.

Rajvi Parekh, a 26-year-old junior scientist, believes that the move was "unnecessary", as several people on dating apps are only looking for a short-term fling. "If you're putting up the status of your vaccine, shouldn't you also be putting up your STD test results from the past three months?" she questions. "Sure, it is a good initiative, but it is definitely discriminatory in nature because so many people are still not eligible and are denied the Covid-19 vaccine," she remarks. Rajvi also mentions how the concept of putting an 'all-vaccinated' selfie is a first-world phenomenon.

"Some people can't afford vaccines, and there are a lot who have anaphylaxis (allergic reaction to Covid-19 vaccine) -- it just seems like a useless addition," she says. On asking her if she would prefer dating someone who was vaccinated, she says, "It depends. But I wouldn't make it a hard-and-fast rule." She states how she would ask them if they've been hanging out outside or have had Covid-19 before, but it needn't be a criterion for her. "I would personally talk to them and discuss things instead of badgering them based on what they put on their bios," she concludes.

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While most believe the move is an unnecessary addition, many think it isn't all that bad an idea. "I live in a joint family, and my parents (as well as my grandparents) are senior citizens," says Nehal Mehta, a 30-year-old chartered accountant. Nehal spent the last couple of months working from home to avoid posing a risk to his family. "These are scary times, and I'm doing everything I can to avoid getting exposed to the virus. If I have to go out and meet someone, I would rather know if they're vaccinated or not," he firmly states.

On asking him if he's frequent on dating apps, he laughs. "I'm actively looking for a life partner, and I'm giving a shot wherever possible," he tells us. "There's nothing wrong in looking out for yourself and your family during uncertain times. I think it makes you feel secure and doesn't necessarily mean harm to anyone in particular," he says. However, Nehal also doesn't think it should be a mandate. "Personally, I'm more likely to right swipe someone who's jabbed -- but that doesn't mean I won't consider those who haven't. Because you know, when it's right -- it's right," he says.

Another report published in the New York Times spoke about how users who claimed to have already received the Covid vaccine were being "liked" twice the rate of users who said they weren't interested. Tinder had in January, found a 238 per cent spike in vaccine mentions in user bios, while Bumble reported "a steady increase" in the number of people including "vaccine" or "vaccinated" in their profiles, the report said.

However, as people above the age of 18 gear up to get vaccinated from May 1, there's a good chance that the trend will follow suit in India, as it has in other countries. And while a lot of us aren't fortunate enough to get vaccinated on the first go, it is crucial to be considerate and give everyone a long rope. As it is rightly quoted: We're all in the same boat; the size of our boat -- however -- differs from person to person.

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