The vaccinated class

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Amid uneven rates of vaccination, some see business and dating opportunities in the gap

Jonah Engel Bromwich

Nurse Caitlin Crowley pinning on a badge stating she has been vaccinated with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a health centre in Boston, Massachusetts, last month. Healthcare workers are finding that vaccination comes with some small perks.

PublishedJan 25, 2021, 5:00 am SGT

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(NYTIMES) – The coronavirus vaccine was not supposed to be a golden ticket.

A tiered and efficient roll-out was meant to inoculate front-line workers and the most vulnerable before the rest of society.

But scattershot and delayed distribution of the still limited supply now threatens to create a new temporary social class – one that includes not just people who are at higher risk of infection or severe illness and death, but also grocery store customers in Washington, Indonesian influencers, elementary schoolteachers, American celebrities, New York Post reporters and others who, because of their work or because of luck, have been able to get immunised quickly.

Tests of the vaccines show they are incredibly effective. But people can still get the coronavirus while in the process of getting inoculated, and could possibly still spread the virus, especially if they come in close contact with others or stop wearing masks.

As a result, as people clamour to get in line for what represents the only real safety from a disease that has killed millions, plenty of individuals who have been vaccinated will wait patiently until they are told it is safe to gather.

But others will feel emboldened to begin to congregate with their vaccinated peers. Some of them will be among the most privileged people in the world.

Knightsbridge Circle, a luxury travel service in London that charges £25,000 (S$45,440) a year for membership, made waves earlier this month when its founder Stuart McNeill told The Telegraph that the club would fly members who were 65 or older to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to receive privately obtained vaccines.

In Britain, the vaccination is available only through the National Health Service.

Since going public with the offer, the club, which arranges luxury experiences and accommodations for its members, has received more than 2,000 applications for membership and thousands of phone calls, e-mails and social media requests, according to Mr McNeill.

He also wrote, in response to e-mailed questions, that his organisation has been approached by “several private jet companies” looking to team with the club to transport the vaccinated.

His organisation also announced that it would begin selling vaccines to people who were not previously members of the club for £ 10,000 per person, as long as individuals are 65 or older – or can prove that they have underlying health conditions.

Knightsbridge Circle will “ask for proof of this when booking”, a spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

The vaccines will come as part of a three-week “membership package”. But that package will not include anything beyond the vaccine and transport to and from the airport and vaccination sites.

Interested parties will have to book airfare and three weeks’ worth of accommodation themselves.

For Mr McNeill’s clients, the real fun will come once the inoculations are done. Some of those who expect to be vaccinated in the UAE have been looking to schedule specialised excursions after they are inoculated, he said, adding: “Desert safari seems to be the most popular.”

Members who travel to the UAE will stay in the country for the required time before a second dose.

 

Mr McNeill also said that, given the uncertainty around staples of the spring calendar this year – Royal Ascot, Monaco Grand Prix and Wimbledon – he expects his vaccinated clients to “head to the Mediterranean” earlier than usual.

Top destinations for the company’s clients, he said, included St Tropez, Mykonos, Ibiza and Bodrum.

A leisure class of the newly vaccinated will mean that hotels, catering services and other businesses will be scrambling to employ bartenders, servers and other staff who are also vaccinated, the better to ensure the safety of all.

A vaccination will begin to represent not only safety from the virus but also, for some, a leg-up in the job market.

Mr Jamie Baxter, chief executive of Qwick, an Arizona-based Web platform that connects service workers with employers, said: “Just like business partners require background checks for all of our professionals today, a lot of people are going to start wanting to say, ‘Hey, send vaccinated professionals as well.'”

He said that Qwick had already started thinking about how to verify which workers on its platform had been vaccinated.

‘Haves and have-nots’

Over 40 million doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide, mostly to healthcare workers, first responders and older individuals, many of whom live in nursing homes.

The vaccinated class is and will remain a relatively small portion of the population during the first half of the year.

That makes it difficult for economists and businesses to anticipate when people will begin to gather in substantial numbers – in places where they have not been doing so already – and what the economic impact of such activity might be.

“As people are excited to become vaccinated against Sars-CoV-2, they may be overestimating what that protection means,” said Professor Jennifer Reich of the University of Colorado-Denver, who specialises in health policy.

“It’s important that they calibrate their expectations and understand that their behaviour after immunisation still has to be focused on protecting people around them.”

But some private event spaces are gearing up for boom times in the spring and summer all the same.

Peerspace, a commercial space rental platform (think Airbnb for events and parties), said it is already seeing bookings for its 20,000 locations around the United States, starting in late May.

Peerspace’s chief executive Eric Shoup said he was interested to see whether cities and states would make special allowances for those who had been inoculated, especially once a significant portion of the population was vaccinated.

“There are going to be the haves and have-nots, if you will,” he said.

 

 

Mr Matt Bendett, the company’s head of operations and strategy, wondered whether one’s vaccination status would be available to share through an app like Apple Wallet.

According to Bloomberg, interest in such applications – essentially passports that would show proof of immunisation – has surged.

“If that’s something that becomes accepted and is not considered a privacy violation of some sort, or we start to see governments kind of changing their tune on how people can use that as verification, I certainly think that’s something we could look at how we would leverage,” he said.

Doctors who have been on the terrible front line of the crisis have had a preview of the social world that some who are vaccinated could return to fairly soon.

Dr Alex Tran is an emergency medicine resident physician at Mount Sinai and Elmhurst hospitals in New York City, where he has worked during the pandemic.

As of this month, he is fully vaccinated. Given that he and his peers developed antibodies when they were exposed to the virus at the beginning of the crisis, he said, they had not been particularly worried about hanging out with one another.

With the vaccine, though, he plans to travel across the country to California to see his parents for the first time in a year.

“What I’m waiting for is actually that CDC card that they’re giving out being accepted as a method of entry, whether that be for flights or for restaurants, like indoor dining or whatever it may be,” he said, referring to the verification card that those who are vaccinated receive.

“I could see a situation where a club makes it their official policy that you need to show your vaccine card,” Dr Tran added.

“But I think that’s just going to open the way up to forged vaccine cards. There’s going to be another market there.”

Already, healthcare workers are finding that vaccination comes with some small perks.

Last Friday, the National Football League announced that a significant percentage of the crowd at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, would be vaccinated healthcare workers, who will receive free tickets.

How large venues will determine who has been vaccinated is still a contentious subject.

Dr Tran also expects vaccination status to become a draw on dating apps. He mentioned that a vaccinated friend updated his dating profile on one of the apps to say “Dating me is like dating a golden retriever… who’s been vaccinated,” and that it had already attracted a good amount of attention.

 

 

The ‘hottest thing’ in dating

Dating app companies confirmed that vaccination has become a hot topic on their platforms.

On Tinder, vaccine mentions in user bios rose 258 per cent between September and last month.

“Those who have gotten the vaccine are using their status as a way to spark conversation with potential matches about their experience,” Tinder spokesman Dana Balch wrote in an e-mail.

On OkCupid, those who indicate that they have received the vaccine are being liked at double the rate of users who say that they are not interested in getting the vaccine, according to Mr Michael Kaye, a spokesman for the app.

“Basically, getting the vaccine is the hottest thing you could be doing on a dating app right now,” Mr Kaye said.

Social media communities for the newly vaccinated (and those interested in being newly vaccinated) have quickly been established. One sub-reddit, r/Covid19VaccineRats, was created last month by Mr Jamal Fares, an aid worker in Beirut, where the vaccination has not begun.

Mr Fares said he started the group to combat rumours and misinformation about the vaccine.

Over time, he expected it to become a social hub where people might read tales from and about the happily inoculated.

“They will start going out, they will start socially interacting, and I presume they’ll start sharing those experiences with others,” he said of the sub-reddit’s vaccinated members.

Prof Reich said she was concerned that government officials would enable irresponsible activity by the newly vaccinated.

She urged even those who had been vaccinated to restrain themselves until the protection granted by immunisation was better understood – or that protection was more widespread – to stave off worst-case scenarios.

“People are going to feel betrayed if they learn later that they thought they were protected,” she said. “And they killed their grandparents.”

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