Eli Coustan, 13-year-old Evanston resident, creates website to help community members find vaccines

Photo of 13-year-old boy wearing a black sweatshirt and sitting on stairs.

Photo courtesy of Eli Coustan

Thirteen-year-old Evanston resident Eli Coustan. Coustan created ILVaccine.org to help people book vaccine appointments.

Nick Francis and Angeli Mittal

Navigating the many different options for COVID-19 vaccine appointments was a “pain in the neck,” 13-year-old Eli Coustan discovered when he tried to find an appointment for his grandparents.

Finding open appointments can be difficult, with many slots filling up just as eligible residents attempt to sign up. Eli, an eighth grader at Haven Middle School, said the fact there was no centralized list of vaccine availability complicated his search.

“(Eli) said ‘I think I could do a website’ and we didn’t spend more than five minutes picking the name,” Charles Coustan, Eli’s father, said. “We registered the domain, paid seven dollars, and he had a working prototype within 24 hours.”

ILVaccine, a website developed by Eli, provides a frequently updated, centralized database for people to search for vaccines in Illinois.

Before creating the website, Eli said he had already helped over two dozen people individually, but wanted to automate the process for people who couldn’t reach out to him directly or navigate the online terrain on their own.

Even though his site has reached a wide audience — it garnered over 14,000 individual online visitors alone on March 31 — Eli hopes eventually, the website will no longer be necessary.

“The goal is to be put out of business,” he said. “I don’t want this site to need to exist.”

One of Eli’s goals in creating and sharing the website, he said, is making vaccines accessible to as many people as possible, and ensuring distribution in the Chicago area is equitable.

As of April 6, 49.3 percent of all first vaccine doses in Chicago were distributed to White people, according to city officials. In contrast, 32.9 percent of Chicago’s population is White, while 58.8 percent are Black or Latinx. The latter two communities combined have received only 39.5 percent of the city’s first vaccine doses.

To help address these disparities, Eli’s website includes a disclaimer cautioning residents against booking outside their own neighborhoods and provides a State of Illinois vaccine call center for those who need further assistance.

With the help of Google Translate at first, and then volunteers, Eli also translated his site into Spanish and added accessibility features for blind and visually impaired people.

Evanston resident Mike Falevits found the site while he was searching the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook group.

ILVaccine automatically refreshes when new vaccine appointments become available, which Falevits said was helpful in securing a slot. Through the website, he was able to book an appointment ten minutes from his home.

Falevits said ILVaccine has been one of his “top selects” to share with people searching for vaccination appointments. Because of the high demand for vaccines, however, he said people shouldn’t expect the site to guarantee a slot. He said they can be gone “within a second.”

Falevits has made Facebook posts and comments sharing his positive experience with the website, encouraging community members to utilize the tool.

“It could save lives,” Falevits said.

And the website already has had a tangible impact on some people’s lives.

Evanston resident and retired teacher Michele Kruse secured her appointment through the site and can now visit her 100-year-old mother feeling safer than before, she said. Kruse retired during the pandemic after her Chicago middle school began in-person instruction on short notice. She left her career in part for her own health and her mother’s.

Kruse’s former school preached social justice, equity and philanthropy. When she retired, she said she wanted to find another outlet to emphasize these values. After getting a vaccine on ILVaccine, Kruse began to volunteer for the site, doing clerical work and updating its availability database. As one of Eli’s many volunteers, she said Eli is “amazingly competent” at running the website on top of school and other priorities.

“To see an eighth grader on his own using his intelligence and initiative for the purpose of serving others, of course, struck my heart,” Kruse said.

Shortly after Kruse got her vaccination and began volunteering, Eli received an interview request from Chicago’s NBC5 station.

He extended the request to Kruse, asking if she would appear.

Kruse said she is hesitant to appear on television, and wouldn’t generally accept the offer. However, she said doing it for Eli was a no-brainer.

“In my heart I just said, ‘I’ll do anything for this kid,’” Kruse said. “He’s done so much.”

Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Twitter: @nick24francis, @amittal27

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The Daily’s COVID-19 vaccination guide: what you need to know and how to get a COVID-19 vaccine
Cook County mass vaccination sites open registration for Evanston residents