Eli Coustan, Evanston. Photo provided.

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Being a teenager during a pandemic was once uncharted territory – juggling family, school, and the bridge between present youth and nearing adulthood and now, COVID-19. 

For Eli Coustan, being 13 during the pandemic means many different things; he is a son, a student, a friend, an average eighth grader – everything he is supposed to be, but at the same time, he is much more. 

Eli is a problem-solver above all. He leans into his empathy as strength, which is how he found himself designing a website to help residents of Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage, McHenry and Will counties get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“It wasn’t easy,” he said, as he explained how he helped his grandparents find places they could get vaccinated. He knew the system had to change if Chicagoland was to survive vaccination distribution.

“I started to realize that it was not equitable to only help certain people like my grandparents or their friends, I wanted to help more,” Eli said. 

He took some programming classes and knew his way around basic website development and if a question came up, he would Google it. He still does all of his schoolwork; he’s just “really busy,” now. 

Eli is working continuously to make sure his website: https://www.ilvaccine.org/ is the most accessible to users. A new design launched last week that now makes the website even simpler, and it hosts one page where all of the information about vaccine eligibility and availability can be located. 

Eli’s mother, Hillary, said a core issue she has noticed is the misconception that only older people are struggling to find appointments, however, that is not the case.

“It’s not just older people – to find an appointment, you had to have ten browser windows open on multiple devices and constantly refreshing the page,” she said. “If you’re an essential worker or a teacher, you can’t sit all day and do that. It takes an enormous about of time from people and is a huge barrier for people. What Eli’s website does is put all of the information in one place, so you don’t have to have this patchwork of information.” 

Eli recognizes these barriers, so he has made it his mission to create the most accessible vaccination website for the area. He is now working on expanding and publicizing the site. 

A Spanish translator recently volunteered to help create a Spanish option for the website that launched March 2; and Eli encourages other translators, programmers, or those interested to reach out so he can continue to reach more people. 

The city of Chicago recently announced that the United Center will begin distributing 6,000 vaccines per day in the upcoming weeks. Eli said he will have a volunteer assigned to track this data and update the website, but it is still unknown how Chicago will treat the registration process.