First came the idea of making Covid vaccinations mandatory to go to the pub, while Israel offered free pizza and beer with a shot. Now UK officials have hit on what they hope is an even more persuasive reason for young people to get their jab: more chance of getting a date.
In an eye-catching policy coinciding with the rollout of vaccinations for the under-30s beginning this week, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has teamed up with popular dating apps to encourage take-up of the programme.
Users of Tinder, Match, Hinge, Bumble, Badoo, Plenty of Fish, OurTime and Muzmatch will enjoy a series of benefits if they add their vaccination status to their profile, including virtual badges and stickers.
Most of the apps are also giving people who say they have been vaccinated free bonuses such as a certain number of “boosts”, which promote their profile to potential dates, offering the tantalising prospect of a greater stake in what has already been billed a post-pandemic “summer of love”.
The scheme is entirely voluntary and not connected to any medical records or the NHS app, which means it is based on trust.
While dating sites and apps cater for all ages, they are predominantly used by younger people, the demographic for which ministers and officials fear vaccine take-up will be lowest, given the reduced chance of serious outcomes from coronavirus.
In March, government insiders said one argument for making Covid certificates mandatory for people using pubs and other hospitality venues would be to nudge younger people into getting vaccinated. Such certificates, which now appear less likely to be introduced, would require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid or positive antibody test to get into crowded indoor spaces.
In another targeting of a group seen as less likely to take up offers of vaccination, Muzmatch, one of the apps working with the DHSC, is a site aimed at single Muslims. The government has been keen to promote vaccination among minority ethnic Britons, with surveys showing greater overall scepticism among people of black and south Asian heritage compared with those from white backgrounds.
On Tinder, where users “swipe” pictures in the hope of acquiring a match, people will be able to add virtual stickers such as one saying “I’m vaccinated”, with those who sign up being handed a free “super like” to boost their profile.
Similar sticker and bonus schemes will operate on Match, OkCupid, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Hinge and Badoo. Muzmatch will participate by having medical experts answering questions about vaccines on its social media.
A similar approach was launched in the US last month, with the White House partnering with dating apps. Earlier this year, Israel, which has led the world in vaccine distribution, reported a drop in people attending appointments, put down in part to apathy after it began offering jabs to those under 35.
George Kidd, the head of the Online Dating Association industry group, said it was “delighted to play its part in getting the message out on vaccinations”. He said: “Dating apps and services are the start point for about a third of all new relationships. When meeting in person was not possible, services were an important way of meeting others online, with the hope of meeting up later when safe to do so.”
Shahzad Younas, the founder and chief executive of Muzmatch, said he was aware of the concerns some young Muslims had about vaccinations. “Misinformation has been spreading at an alarming rate in our communities, which is why we’re glad to work with the NHS to clear up myths about the vaccine and encourage our members to get vaccinated.”
The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “I am thrilled that we are partnering up with dating apps to boost vaccine uptake across the country.”