EVANSTON, Ill. — The mad scramble to secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment can be frustrating and confounding. Often times, vaccine seekers have to navigate multiple sites. Appointments disappear, sometimes in seconds.
Former middle school math teacher Michele Kruse says getting an appointment on her own was not easy.
“I'd look in the morning. I'd look a couple hours later, and I was getting nothing,” said Kruse.
But she eventually logged on to a site that simplified it all. It had locations, availability and eligibility all in one place.
“Very all-encompassing and easy to use," said Kruse. “I went on to the website and then within about 10 minutes or something, I think I had an appointment.”
It turns out that website was created by 13-year-old Eli Coustan.
“I group it by county and for some locations, I have volunteers updating the data and then for other locations, I have figured out how to automate it,” said Eli.
Eli began by helping his grandparents get appointments.
“Eli started getting on the computer and refreshing and looking and he pretty quickly found openings for them,” said his mother, Hillary Coustan. “Then they called him back a few minutes later and said a friend had had an appointment that had just gotten canceled and could he help her.”
“There have been times where they've disappeared before I could book them, especially one offs,” said Eli. “I mean, you just have to type very very very fast.”
After securing appointments for some two dozen acquaintances and friends of friends in various states, he decided the aggregation website could expand his reach in Illinois and help people who didn’t know him.
“As Eli would tell you, you have to have 10 windows open and constantly be refreshing if you're an essential worker,” said Hillary Coustan. “If you're a teacher, you can't be doing that all day.”
It's already gotten tens of thousands of visitors and helped people like Michele Kruse who recently got her first shot.
“I was amazed and just pleased that such a young person used his abilities and his initiative to help out other people,” said Kruse.
The pair met for the first time the day after her appointment. She’s now become a volunteer helping Eli with his work.
“All the locations that are offering it have the data, but they don't all make it easy to access, which is what I've been trying to aggregate,” he said. “But I've come into issues where it is very, very hard to actually get this data.”
He’s looking to expand his site and even added Spanish translations this week.
Eli says he’d also like to see a federally administered national website to ensure equitable access for all.
“We need to get the vaccines into people's arms, to everyone's arms, no matter where they live, who they are,” said Eli. “We need to get people who want the vaccine the vaccine.”