'Angel' with a laptop

Jewish teen connects thousands of Chicago seniors to coveted vaccine shots

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High school freshman Benjamin Kagan with the computer he uses to help seniors secure vaccine appointments.

An 87-year-old Vietnam War veteran and his 86-year-old wife had no luck finding vaccines for COVID-19 until their daughter reached out to 14-year-old Benjamin Kagan, founder of Chicago Vaccine Angels. Thanks to Kagan, a Chicago Jewish high school freshman, the couple got their first shots the next day.

This couple is only one example of the people--primarily age 65-plus--Kagan has helped. After he helped his grandparents get their COVID shots, he watched a local news program about a Facebook group called Chicago Vaccine Hunters. "I saw people who needed help, and I knew how to do it," said Kagan, who joined the group, learned tricks of how to get vaccine slots in various venues, and then started dispensing advice.

Over time, Kagan learned that, although there is no one universal tip--other than being flexible--"there are things you pick up along the way," like checking clinic websites where you can pre-fill your information before slots become available. He started learning and sharing his advice with people he knew, and soon, his inbox was flooded with messages from strangers.

After seeing his helpful posts online, vaccine seekers without resources, time, or computer savviness, started sending requests for further help. Many seniors were still having trouble and requested that he book their appointments directly. Kagan agreed and founded Chicago Vaccine Angels, a subgroup of Chicago Vaccine Hunters, to organize these requests.

In order to sign up, eligible Chicagoans fill out a Google Form that leads them to a spreadsheet. The 50 volunteers at Chicago Vaccine Angels locate appointments and match them up with vaccine seekers' logistical preferences. So far, Chicago Vaccine Angels has connected over 1,200 seniors to vaccine shots.

"It just felt so good to know that I can help these people who are struggling," said Kagan, who has personally helped over 200 people. "Their lives are possibly being saved or they can resume their normal lives. It feels incredible!"

For more information, or to request help, contact chicagovaccineangels@gmail.com.

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