Even as governments aim to try to step up the number of COVID vaccine doses available to the general public, several area entrepreneurs are aiming to help residents set up vaccination appointments through the power of technology and collaborative effort.
One such outlet has been the Facebook group “Chicago Vaccine Hunters.” Started by Roger Naglewski, the group aims to help residents find so-called “spare doses” of the vaccine that are nearing their five-day expiration date, according to the group’s page.
More than 27,000 Facebook users have joined the group as of Thursday afternoon.
"I know the anxiety firsthand that so many people are feeling right now as they try to secure a vaccine appointment - for themselves and for loved ones,” Naglewski said in a statement. “There’s no one place people can go and see all the vaccine options that are available. We want to be that source for people. At the end of the day, my number one goal is to just help get more needles in arms."
Benjamin Kagan, a 14-year-old high school freshman from Lakeview, purchased the website ChicagoVaccineHunters.com to help older residents gain access to the Facebook group.
“The system is just so complicated," Kagan said. "If you don’t understand the technology, you are just going to lose out and not be vaccinated. And that’s difficult. People were sending me private messages saying 'Benjamin, I can’t figure this out -- can you book it for me?'”
His group, dubbed “Chicago Vaccine Angels,” consists of 50 or so volunteers that are aiming to help senior citizens find information, and book appointments, for the vaccine doses.
Evanston-resident Eli Coustan, 13, had a similar idea when he created ilvaccine.org. The simple-to-use website asks residents for the county that they live in, then connects them with resources to sign up for appointments for the vaccine, allowing those residents to check which vaccination sites currently have available doses of the drug.
“I just realized that this system was messed up, and it did not work,” Coustan said. “You needed to have too many windows open, and the average person can’t do it.”
Coustan says that he is continuing to hone the website with the help of a dedicated army of volunteers, with a ZIP code search function and a translate function potentially on the horizon as the demand for the vaccine grows.