CHICAGO — If you’re struggling to book a coronavirus vaccine appointment, 13-year-old Eli Coustan and his team of volunteers can help.
Coustan, who lives in Evanston, created ILVaccine in February to help the appointment-hunting process be less maddening for Illinois residents. The site is searchable by county and shows available appointments in Chicago and the suburbs by pulling data from city vaccination sites and other providers.
The bilingual website is run by about a dozen volunteers who manually refresh availability for sites like the United Center and health clinics where appointments are quickly scooped up. The rest of the website’s data auto-refreshes every few minutes for most of the locations, so you can spend less time checking multiple browser windows and see centralized information, the teenager said.
The eighth grader said he was motivated to build the website after using his technological skills to help relatives book appointments.
“When appointments first opened up, I helped my grandparents and two dozen other people get appointments,” Coustan said. “After doing that I realized it was very, very difficult and there was no centralized info on availability and the state’s listings didn’t have availability.”
Coustan said he wanted to help people outside his circle and fill a gap left by government agencies. He designed and coded the site himself — with some help from Google — in hopes people looking for appointments for themselves or loved ones could use it.
“It is valuable to be able to know where you are getting [the vaccine] but real-time availability is a big part of putting it all together,” he said.
Juggling virtual learning and managing the site has kept Coustan busy. He loves technology and has built websites in the past, though nothing with this wide of reach, he said. The site has about 9,000 daily visitors and had 136,000 page views in just the past week, according to data shared with Block Club. On average, there are about 70 people on the site at a time.
Coustan said his site is gaining quick traction. He has received positive feedback so far and nationwide media coverage for helping people find appointments. Two of the site’s volunteers decided to help after finding appointments through ILVaccine.
The site is also listed on government sites like McHenry County and Congresswoman Jan Schawosky’s site and was featured on the American Medical Association’s daily COVID-19 briefing. It’s made Coustan happy to see his hard work pay off.
“It’s very gratifying to know people are able to get the COVID vaccine and get back to seeing their grandkids or just be able to work without having to be as scared of getting the virus,” he said. “I know how important it was for my grandparents and the people I personally helped, and I am sure there are other similar stories of people who have gotten appointments, however they get them.”
Hillary Coustan, Eli’s mother, said she’s received messages from friends who have used the site to get appointments for themselves and their parents.
“It’s really great to see the people he has reached so far,” she said.
The city moved into Phase 1C of vaccinations this week, making most adults in Chicago eligible for shots. But the vaccine rollout has been chaotic and vaccine supply hasn’t kept up with demand, making it difficult for many Chicagoans to figure out when and where they can get vaccinated.
All Illinoisans 16 and older will be eligible for vaccinations starting April 12 as more doses come into the state, health officials say. That does not apply to Chicago. City officials have not yet said when they’ll fully open up eligibility.
Eli Coustan is conscious about the equity component to finding appointments and wants to make sure his site reaches people all over the city and state — not just affluent, technology-savvy people or those who have time to constantly refresh on websites.
Earlier this month, a volunteer translated the site into Spanish, and Coustan recently added accessibility tools to change the text size and contrast on the site. Now, he said he is adding more vaccine providers and looking into adding a ZIP code search tool.
“This way I’m hoping to have a broader reach and enable people who are either the vaccine hunters to help others, or people who are using it for themselves,” he said.
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