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13-year-old Eli Coustan is helping Illinoisans find vaccination appointments with his website ILVaccine.org

Thursday, April 01, 2021
Chicago Tribune
by Darcel Rockett

Talking to Eli Coustan about his website ILVaccine.org makes you wonder what you were doing at age 13.

Eli found out about the difficulty people were having booking COVID-19 vaccination appointments after he helped his grandparents. Putting his programming skills to work, his website aims to make the process easier.

 

Launched in February, the site lists information about locations across Illinois that are offering COVID-19 vaccinations, including availability and eligibility information. As of Wednesday, Eli said the site had reached 14,600 unique visitors.

“It needs to be easy for people to get appointments. If you’re an essential worker, especially a front-line essential worker, you don’t have the time to be in all the Facebook groups monitoring everything,” he said. “You have time to check a few things every day, maybe. At the very beginning, I saw how hard it was firsthand. … When they release (appointments), nobody knows. And if you’re not at the right place at the right time, you’re not going to get it. So that’s why I created it.”

Eli’s site has been referenced by many since its inception, including Illinois Senate Republican leader Dan McConchie, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and the American Medical Association’s daily COVID-19 briefing in recent days.

He’s always improving the site, from making it available in Spanish to adding accessibility tools (bigger text, contrasting colors). Eli keeps the site updated with the help of volunteers.

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He squeezes in work on the site while doing his schoolwork remotely. This is the eighth grader’s last year at Haven Middle School before he starts high school in the fall.

His father, Charles Coustan, said the site is a little bit of a 24/7 obsession with Eli. He thinks Eli easily spends 40-plus hours on it per week.

“With the limited availability of other diversions during the pandemic, if he’s going to be stuck at home, at least he’s making a difference,” he said. “This has been an incredible growing experience for him to build the website, but also manage volunteers and think through some of these issues about the broader context of vaccines, public health and access.”

Eli Coustan's difficulty booking his grandparents' COVID-19 vaccination appointments led him to create ILVaccine.org, a site that lists vaccination availability, eligibility and location information across Illinois. The 13-year-old manages the site in between his remote learning.
Eli Coustan's difficulty booking his grandparents' COVID-19 vaccination appointments led him to create ILVaccine.org, a site that lists vaccination availability, eligibility and location information across Illinois. The 13-year-old manages the site in between his remote learning. (Ash-har Quraishi)

Eli said he recognized there is an issue with people going to underserved neighborhoods and getting vaccines there. He made it a point to put a line at the top of the site: “Some areas are struggling to get their residents vaccinated, so please be conscious of booking in neighborhoods you don’t usually visit.”

“I can’t tell people what to and what not to do, but I just people to be cognizant of it,” he said. “That’s been at the very top of the website for quite a while.”

And to think Eli went from programming his own virtual bar mitzvah site to this. He said he would love to chat with Mayor Lori Lightfoot or Gov. J.B. Pritzker to get his site on more local COVID-19 assistance pages, but until then, he’ll keep working on adding more providers to his page.

When asked if he could lend his services to Illinois’ Department of Motor Vehicle sites, in helping book appointments more efficiently, he laughed.

“The state is welcome to reach out, but I would much rather help them with their COVID-19 vaccine location site. “If anybody from the state or city of Chicago is interested, please shoot me an email through the website.”

Darcel Rockett

Darcel Rockett

Chicago Tribune
CONTACT

Darcel Rockett is a writer and curious soul — the latter informing the former. Her curious nature has led her to write for news organizations in London, the Virgin Islands, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Currently, she writes lifestyle pieces for the Chicago Tribune, where she’s served as a digital editor and features reporter for a decade.


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