Since coronavirus vaccines are distributed in the United States, many people have been unable to get appointments, despite being in the ranking groups.
Enter: Benjamin Kagan. The 14-year-old high school freshman, and therefore by most standards a tech-savvy kid, helped his grandparents get vaccinations appointments in Florida on their spring break.
One night, while watching the local news, Kagan saw a story about a Facebook group of Chicagoans working together to find vaccines for people in need: Chicago Vaccine Hunters.
“I thought I could do this,” he said. Assisted by a broken ankle and the ongoing pandemic anyway, Kagan turned to her computer and began helping locals locate appointments.
“I thought, okay, well, all these people need help and some of them are not good at using technology; that’s a problem that we face a lot with some of the older people in the group,” he explained. His Facebook inbox was quickly filled with pleas from people desperate to find an opportunity.
He started a Google form, where people from the Chicago area can submit their names and information. Then Kagan or another volunteer will help find an appointment for them. He even founded his own group, Chicago Vaccine Angels, which, despite only running for a few weeks, already has more than 50 volunteers. Since it started, Kagan said, they have helped more than 250 people find dates.
He has become an expert in vaccination appointments, even local clinics contact him and need to deplete his supply at the end of the day.
A nurse, Kagan said, sent him a message on Facebook.
“She said, ‘Benjamin, I just spoke to my supervisor. We have 10 extra doses of shots, like, get people here right away,'” she said. Kagan called 10 locals and sent them his way. “Then I called her … and she said, ‘Yeah, about that, we need 10 more people.’
The next day, the same nurse informed him of 10 more appointments that he was able to keep with local educators who had contacted him for help finding the vaccine.
Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.
“One of the values that my parents have raised me with and throughout school is that when you see something that is wrong, you get up and try to fix it,” he explained. “Then I saw that this system was wrong and incredibly messed up. So I’m doing everything I can to help fix it for those who need it, to help them.”
Kagan, like many others, was surprised that the federal government did not create a centralized national system for administering the vaccine and appointments.
Across the country, people eager to get the vaccine have been frustrated by the slow release.
As of the end of January, 50 states were reporting shortages of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from NBC News. And in some states, recent extreme weather slowed distribution even further.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, initially estimated that healthy youth would see an “open season” in the vaccine for April, but pushed back that date last week. In an interview with “Pod Save America,” he said it will take until May or early June to get through the priority groups.
Only when that’s complete can “anyone and everyone” line up for a vaccine, Fauci said.
Meanwhile, Kagan says she plans to help people until it is all over.
“Until everyone in this country is vaccinated, or until they can easily access a vaccine by calling a pharmacy or online, I will continue to do this,” he said.