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Vaccinators getting chatted up
Illustration Callum Abbott

Moderna Love: the vaccinators getting chirpsed on the jab

Between the screens, vaccinators have faced a new tasteless phenomenon – they’re getting chatted up by their patients

Love’s always been infectious. I don’t mean outbreaks of super-gonorrhea (though that is a thing) – but that since the dawn of time, humans have feverishly tried it on with each other via every way imaginable, from numbers hastily scribbled on napkins to salacious messages sent on LinkedIn. Like a moth magnetised to a heart-shaped candle, we constantly lurch back towards love, even if it often leaves us burnt out.

When lockdown threatened to all but extinguish dating, we quickly adapted, substituting the real thing for awkward Hinge calls and, err, finding dates via a Google Sheets doc. While these may have disappeared, one bizarre variant of pandemic romance has survived on the surface: chatting up your vaccinator.

“There’s definitely a lot of flirtation,” says Laura*, a 20-something medical student and vaccinator. “Usually from people our own age and older men who think their dad jokes are funny.” One memory sticks firmly in Laura’s mind. “There was this guy who walked in with a kind of swagger with his hoodie up,” she remembers. “While I was doing my admin stuff sitting down, he slid his chair all the way towards me and put his elbows on the table. He was really up in my space; I could feel him looking me up and down.”

When Laura asked him to roll up his sleeve, he obliged, but a little too readily. “He literally took his whole shirt off, in a really dramatic way, and then he said something like, ‘I bet all the guys do this for you’, and laughed.” That wasn’t even the weirdest part, though. “I was doing a bit more admin, and then he started (fake) crying,” Laura recalls, mimicking an affected sobbing. “He asked, ‘Can I have a hug?’ I didn’t know what to do. I was about to, and then he literally burst out laughing. I said to him, ‘What the fuck?’ and he put his hoodie back on and swaggered off.”

For Julia, an opera singer and volunteer vaccinator, this gameless sleaziness was endemic. “In terms of flirty ‘banter’ and remarking on my looks, I’d say it’s happened about eight or ten times, if not more,” she admits. “This doesn’t surprise me, it comes with the territory of being a woman, sadly. Being asked to go to Barbados (by a patient) took me aback but in a funny way.”

One time, it went way too far. “This guy was just a bit of a douche,” reveals Julia. “He came in and was showing off and trying to be like, ‘Oh are you going to inject me with poison?’ Then when I gave him the injection he shouted in pain, then said, ‘Oh it’s just a joke, darling, lighten up! I bet you’re attractive under the mask, want to go for a drink? You owe me a drink after stabbing me in the arm’.” Julia soon discovered that the best way to silence them was to drop the bomb that her husband’s jabbing next door. “It’s a regular occurrence until I tell them I’m married and my husband is vaccinating in the next room (which is often the case), then they shut up,” she says with a laugh.

You might think it would be pretty innocuous getting inoculated – what’s sexy about stunted small talk while getting a shot in the arm? It turns out, though, that nervousness and making yourself vulnerable creates a breeding ground for trying it on. “It’s a combination of a lot of things,” James Preece, a media dating expert, tells Dazed. “It’s an intimate environment and people have been separated from most human contact. The heartbeat is going to be excited, they’re going to be a bit nervous – all the things you get when you fall in love. The body’s going to be flooded with chemicals that can confuse people.”

“When I gave him the injection he shouted in pain, then said, ‘Oh it’s just a joke, darling, lighten up! I bet you’re attractive under the mask, want to go for a drink? You owe me a drink after stabbing me in the arm” – Julia, vaccinator

Then, there’s something we can all get behind: being looked after. “Someone’s caring for you, and someone showing kindness is the same reason why people tend to fall for police officers and nurses – the vulnerable side (of you thinks) they’ll make you feel special and important,” explains Preece. “Intimacy, again, gets increased in that situation.” All physical barriers, too, are immediately broken down. “They’ve not had anyone that close – someone touching them, somebody’s breathing near them – (for maybe over a year). Then, suddenly, they’re trusting someone to put a needle in them, and that deepens the connection.”

Laura agrees, citing the fact that, unless your chirpsing is successful, you’re not at risk of seeing your vaccinator again. “If you get on someone’s vibe quite quickly, then it can become a little bit flirty. Because you know you’re probably never going to see this person again, you don’t need to be cautious or coy, you can just be confident and yourself. And that might be a bit flirty.”

While this intense, one-on-one situation can explain a lot of the flirting, other vaccinators have faced a delayed reaction, extending far beyond those sheepish 15 minutes of sitting with a sore arm and a timestamped sticky label. Ruby*, a part-time paid vaccinator, didn’t even realise she’d been romantically tracked and traced until she got a voice note on Facebook from a guy her age with a mutual friend. “It said, ‘Hey Ruby, I was wondering if you could FaceTime me, don’t worry, it’ll be worth your wait’,” she recalls.

“Then a couple of days later, I got all these voice notes from the guy saying, ‘Hello again, you gave me your vaccine the other day, and I feel a little bit weird’.” Panicking that she’d somehow administered it wrongly, she listened on. ‘I tried to ignore it for a few days and then I suddenly realised that I was in love with you,’ the man said. Then came ten minutes of voice notes. While Ruby previously had people say weird things about her “soft touch” or “commenting on the way you look”, this was a new level of scary.

Freaking out about how he’d found her, she listened on. “What happened was he went back to the vaccination centre and asked for my name, and another one of the staff members passed it on,” she says. “It wasn’t until he was like ‘I’ll pay you £100 if you get Ruby to reply to my message’ that they were like, ‘What the hell’. He told me that he went to the vaccination centre, and also to the pharmacy I work at to ask for me there. He started listing things he knew about me.”

Echoing Preece’s thoughts on why people are trying it on, Ruby thinks it’s the caregiving situation that makes people a little too relaxed. “Because I’m a student in healthcare, I’ve been taught how to treat people and make them feel so at ease,” she tells Dazed. “Maybe it’s because I’m in that role – that wouldn't have been how I was if I was at a bar and met someone, it's me being very caring.” It’s also that age-old disease of toxic masculinity – less alpha, more Delta. “He said that if I had a boyfriend, he’d leave me alone, and said he’d seen a boy in one of my photos,” continues Ruby. “That was the only out he gave me – he respected men more than he respected me.”

“He told me that he went to the vaccination centre, and also to the pharmacy I work at to ask for me there. He started listing things he knew about me” – Ruby*, vaccinator

Antibodies, it seems, don’t really lead to an increased body count, but just higher levels of creepiness. With tens of millions of vaccinations taking place, though, there is the occasional success story. “I think it was actually my first shift,” Naomi*, a paid, part-time vaccinator, remembers. “This girl came in and I did her vaccine. It was very standard, just like any other. She complimented my hair and that was pretty much it. Then, I got home and saw a follow request on Instagram. To be fair I did think it was a bit weird.”

“She must have actually looked at my ID badge and remembered my full name. I feel like the fact it was a girl weirded me out less than if it was some creepy old man who’d found me,” Naomi adds, revealing that she accepted the request. “Then she messaged me. I think she was like, ‘Thanks for the painless vaccine’, and said, ‘You’re really pretty’. Then she asked me out. When we met up, she said all her friends were telling her to do it. We had some drinks and it was really nice to be speaking, then we went on one more date after that.”

Sadly, though, it wasn’t a goer. “I had exams coming up and I wasn’t really feeling it,” explains Naomi. Relaying the story to Preece, I asked him if it’s ever a good idea to date your vaccination patient. “If volunteers are doing this... there's no contracts being breached or anything improper,” he says. “If you fancy someone, you fancy someone. And if they fancy you back, great! Why don't you give it a go and go for a drink?” 

The best thing? You’ll both be vaccinated, too – and there’s nothing sexier than that!

*Names have been changed