Vaccine hunters help students secure vaccine appointments


Illustration by Hank Yang

Some students have become experts in the online maze of vaccine hunting and are now helping their peers book appointments.

Natalie Wu, Reporter

Weinberg freshman Nina Petrouski had been struggling to find a vaccine appointment when her friend put in touch with vaccine booker Eli Karp.

Karp, a Medill junior, had found an appointment on hold at a Mariano’s in Lincoln Park. The vaccine appointment was booked within a matter of minutes.

Although Illinois expanded eligibility to those aged 16 and older on April 12, Northwestern does not yet have enough supply to vaccinate the entire student body The University recommended students stay patient or seek vaccination opportunities off-campus. 

Some students like Karp have become adept at vaccine hunting, helping other students find appointments off-campus. 

McCormick freshman Marcos Rios said he began learning about the “confusing” appointment booking process when he went to sign up for his own vaccine. It took him about two or three hours to book an appointment within reach due to differences in state and federal government vaccine systems, Rios said. 

After getting his vaccine, Rios said he shared his experience and the resources he used on Twitter. That night, five people direct messaged him asking for help booking their appointments, and he found all of them appointments around Evanston, Rios said. 

Since April, he has helped at least 25 individuals get vaccinated using his go-to website, COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter, he said. 

“It’s just a matter of refreshing the (appointment) page,” Rios said “Refresh on the hour, every single o’clock, or at midnight stuff will open.” 

Ph.D. candidate Zoha Syed, member of the Northwestern COVID-19 Committee, an organization that has advocated for NU postdoctoral and graduate students during the pandemic, also helps students find appointments. NUCC has also compiled a guide on its website — which updates daily — that has information on appointment locations, times when new appointments will publish and forms of identification people need to bring, Syed said. 

For those who can’t afford to leave campus to get their vaccine, Syed said NUCC is working with Luke Figora, vice president for operations, to streamline information about appointment booking and help identify populations on campus in need of the vaccine. 

Syed said while she recognizes it can be hard for some students to travel off campus for a vaccine, there are now enough vaccines available nationally that students going off campus are not taking doses from others who may be more at risk.

“If you get an appointment, take it,” Syed said. “I know that comes from a place of privilege, but we’re so close to getting over this really horrific event in our country. I think it’s worth the sacrifice in the short-term for the gains you’re going to get in the long-term.”

Because of the unpredictable nature of vaccine appointments, Karp has never publicly advertised his help, but he’s been able to connect over 70 individuals with the vaccine since he started in late February, he said.

Karp said he uses primarily a Facebook group called Chicago Vaccine Hunters to track down appointments for his friends and community members.

“Every person who gets a vaccine makes themselves and the people around them safer,” Karp said. “Think about all the things you want to do — you want to be able to go out and eat again, go have house parties and enjoy college life.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @_nataliewu_


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