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Chicago teen helps connect hundreds of seniors to COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Benjamin Kagan, a 14-year-old high school freshman in Chicago, is helping track down coronavirus vaccines as people struggle to find and make appointments.
Chicago teenager Benjamin Kagan realized he had a knack for tracking down COVID-19 vaccine appointments, so he's put those skills to good use.
Chicago teenager Benjamin Kagan realized he had a knack for tracking down COVID-19 vaccine appointments, so he's put those skills to good use.Courtesy Irv Kagan
/ Source: TODAY

As the coronavirus vaccines are distributed across the United States, many people have been unable to get appointments, despite being in the qualifying groups.

Enter: Benjamin Kagan. The 14-year-old high school freshman — and therefore, by most standards, a tech-savvy guy — helped his grandparents secure vaccine appointments in Florida on his spring break.

While watching the local news one evening, Kagan saw a story about a Facebook group for Chicagoans working together to find vaccines for people in need: Chicago Vaccine Hunters.

"I thought, I could do this," he said. Waylaid by a broken ankle and the ongoing pandemic anyway, Kagan turned to his computer and started helping locals track down appointments.

"I figured, OK, well, all these people need help and some of them aren't good at using technology — that's an issue that we face a lot with some of the older people in the group," he explained. His Facebook inbox quickly filled up with pleas from people desperate to find a shot.

He started a Google form, where Chicago-area people can submit their names and information. Then, Kagan or another volunteer will help track down an appointment for them. He even started his own group, Chicago Vaccine Angels, that, despite only being in operation for a few weeks, already has over 50 volunteers. Since getting started, Kagan said, they've helped more than 250 people find appointments.

He's become somewhat of a vaccine appointment expert, even getting contacted by local clinics that need to use up their supply at the end of the day.

One nurse, Kagan said, messaged him on Facebook.

"She said, 'Benjamin, I just spoke with my supervisor. We have 10 extra vaccine doses, like, get the people here immediately.'" he said. Kagan called 10 local people and sent them her way. "Then I called her ... and she said, 'Yeah, about that, we need 10 more people.'"

The next day, the same nurse told him about 10 more appointments he was able to fill with local educators who had contacted him about getting help to find the vaccine.

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"One of the values that I've been raised with by parents and throughout school is that when you see something that's wrong, you stand up and try to fix it," he explained. "So I saw that this system was wrong and incredibly screwed up. So I am doing my best to help fix it for those that need, to help them out."

Kagan, like many others, was surprised that the federal government did not make a national, centralized system to administer the vaccine and appointments.

Across the country, people eager to get the vaccine have been frustrated by the slow rollout.

As of late January, 50 states were reporting shortages of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to NBC News data. And in some states, recent extreme weather further slowed distribution.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, initially estimated that healthy young people would see an "open season" on the vaccine by April, but walked 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 “anybody and everybody” get in line for a vaccine, Fauci said.

In the meantime, Kagan says he plans to help people until it's all over.

"Until everyone in this country is vaccinated, or can easily access a vaccine by calling a pharmacy or going online, I'm going to continue doing this," he said.