In an effort to help book coronavirus vaccination appointments over several weeks, a Chicago area teen created a useful tool.
Benjamin Kagan, 14-year-old high school freshman from Lakeview, founded ChicagoVaccineHunters.com, which has a waitlist of 250 people asking for his help.
“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?'”
The idea for a website to help people book vaccination appointments came as Kagan helped his Florida grandparents sign up for the coronavirus vaccine in late 2020, he explained.
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Kagan said he quickly realized people, his family membered included, were not familiar with the "refresh" button on an internet web page, which allows the browser to reload online content for new updates.
"Plus, every country, state, even pharmacy has its own online maze," Kagan said.
Kagan joined the initial "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group, but said he was inspired to create his own group called "Chicago Vaccine Angels," where he and a team of 50 volunteers respond to a Google form to assist a growing list of senior citizens who are asking for help.
Thousands of people have joined the group on Facebook where members share information with one another about where they might be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Chicago using leftover doses that presumably would have to be otherwise discarded.
The "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group had more than 24,000 members as of Wednesday. A description of the group states members "collect & share information about places where people of any age can get vaccinated without restrictions and not at someone else's expense."
Both vaccines currently federally approved for emergency use must be stored in freezing temperatures, with Moderna's vaccine capable of being stored in standard freezer temperatures while Pfizer's requires specially formulated ultra-cold storage to last. Pfizer's vaccine doses can be stored for up to five days in refrigeration temperatures but cannot be refrozen once thawed. Moderna's vaccine can be stored at refrigeration temperatures for up to 30 days.
"Thanks to the peculiarities around the extremely cold storage that the COVID vaccines require, there are occasions when 'spare doses' may go unused & should be made available to anyone including young people. When a distribution site defrosts a tray with 100s of vials, they must use all the doses within 5 days -- before, according to protocol, the remaining doses must be thrown out." the description continues. "So what happens when not enough old folk have shown up to get their jab and the open tray still has precious doses left about to expire that day? Sites should start letting anyone they can find through the door!"
The group encourages members to share details on vaccination sites that may have expiring doses with members who are ready to get their shots at a moment's notice.
Illinois is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination rollout, which includes people age 65 years and older as well as "frontline essential workers." Approximately 3.2 million Illinoisans are eligible to get vaccinated in this phase, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this week announced would expand later this month to include people with "a high-risk medical condition" or comorbidity like cancer, diabetes, obesity and more.