USA: Benjamin is 14 and helping hundreds of people get Covid-19 vaccinated

Shortly before midnight, Benjamin Kagan, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, USA, took up his post. Open your laptop and navigate to a local health clinic’s appointments page. Enter a stranger’s personal details and wait.

When the 12 chimes sound, Benjamin has to quickly find the light green button that says: “Stand in line.” If he’s done his step well, he’ll have an appointment for someone to get the vaccine. Then it is to be hoped that the process will not be too long for Benjamin to go to sleep. It is like that there is an algebra class in the morning.

At his age, Benjamin could spend his free time playing video games. But the freshman high school has helped hundreds of people in the Chicago area get vaccinated as national demand for vaccines continues to outperform supply, leaving residents frustrated and desperate.

The project, which was launched last week and first reported by CBS Chicago, was a whopping endeavor. “I’m still a child, am I? I have to do my schoolwork, ”Benjamin begins. “And school is obviously my top priority, so it will be difficult to keep a balance.”

The fact that people need help registering vaccines stems from an underlying systemic flaw: the process of vaccine distribution in the US has been hampered by inefficiencies, resulting in bottlenecks in some areas and surpluses in others. Federal officials have left logistics to state and local health departments, whose budgets have shrunk in recent years, and the outcome is in sight. Additionally, these officials face uncertainties about how many doses of vaccine the federal government will send and when they will arrive.

“Indeed, this is an effort that a 14-year-old shouldn’t have made,” continues Benjamin. “It should have been handled by the federal government or by a state government or by a district government.”

Amid the chaotic scenario in which vaccination against Covid-19 is taking place in the US, more than 37,000 people have already joined the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook group, in a translation of the letter asking members for help. And whoever is on this search has told very sad stories, says Benjamin. Like someone who told you they had stage 4 cancer and were afraid of dying if they got the virus. Other people said that their children were about to have babies and that they wanted to be vaccinated so they could meet their grandchildren. According to state statistics, only about 5% of Chicago residents and 5% of Cook County’s suburban residents were vaccinated.

A Chicago Department of Health spokeswoman Erica Duncan said vaccine supplies are “very limited” right now and urged users to be patient as the city works to make vaccines more accessible. In the county, agency spokesman Don Bolger said he expected more doses to be available in the coming weeks.

However, the problems associated with the introduction of the vaccine have not remained unsolved for Benjamin, who has to wait a long time to be eligible to vaccinate himself. And today, the young person is the best resource that many of the people he has helped could have found.

Putting knowledge at the service of others

It all started when he was helping his grandparents, who lived in Florida, find a vaccination appointment himself. To this end, the boy devoted himself to learning how to navigate vaccine registration systems. Then a journalist speaking to his class urged students to watch a local news segment that discovered Benjamin about the Chicago Vaccine Hunters group. It was then that Benjamin realized that his new vaccine registration functions could be put to the benefit of others. So he started sharing tips in the group. And he quickly found his Facebook message box full of requests for help from people who said they were too slow or technologically unskilled to sign up on their own.

Many older people have little technological knowledge that prevents them from making an appointment for a vaccination for Unsplash / Adam Niescioruk

To keep up with the demand, Benjamin created a Google Form that users can use to ask for assistance. The information is fed into a spreadsheet that is now accessed by around 50 volunteers that Benjamin recruited to secure commitments.

Benjamin’s project gave Lisa Lorentzen, who asked for help last week, a glimmer of hope in a message posted on the Facebook group: “I am a 70-year-old patient with heart problems who met her husband ten months ago during the [pandemia de] Covid, at home and looking for a vaccine! I really want to see my family in Mineápolis, ”he wrote.

The Septuagenarian has not seen most of her relatives since a careful meeting in September. Alone and isolated since her husband died, she says she almost drew a path on the floor of her house to go from side to side. So your goal is to go to Arizona for your daughter’s 50th birthday party this spring. But first she needs to be vaccinated.

Benjamin saw Lisa Lorentzen’s post on Facebook and got an appointment at a Walmart. But a snow storm caused the pharmacy to be canceled. So Benjamin again took action to reserve a place for the woman in a hospital for the next week.

In return, she gave him some advice and told Benjamin to delegate some management duties to his volunteer colleagues so that he could lead the project during his school days. “He’s an incredible young man,” said Lisa Lorentzen in an interview. “I will probably see him one day on a poster running for president because he cares a lot about people.”

After several days of planning, Benjamin admits that he learned a few tricks. He found that he cannot reserve seats in a large pharmacy whose platform does not allow people to register others. Appointments from another pharmacy fill up so quickly that he can’t keep up with the pace. But the biggest tip of all for getting an appointment, according to Benjamin, is to be flexible. People who are willing to go further at any time of the day are more likely to get an appointment.

Benjamin estimates that he and his group of volunteers known as the Chicago Vaccine Angels (the Chicago Vaccination Angels) have already helped about 370 people after making 119 of these appointments themselves.

And at a time when Benjamin is preparing to transition from virtual school to personal school, next week the pace is showing no signs of slowing down. On the contrary: the workload is increasing. Local nurses have started contacting him directly to alert him of additional vaccine supplies, he said, and he hopes to coordinate a mass vaccination event with a local health system.

There is a lot to do while homework is to be done but Benjamin says he is determined to move on and explains that there are too many people who cannot register for the vaccine without help. “The problem with justice is that if you don’t have four computers open and the internet speed is crazy fast and you don’t have any technological knowledge, you’re going to miss the schedules …” he explains.

Right now Benjamin is back at your computer just before midnight every day, fingers ready, looking for the next available seat.

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