They haunt the internet in the wee hours of the morning. They call family and friends. They drive to distant locations—just to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

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Even though vaccine shipments are increasing and local authorities are establishing more vaccination sites, patients seeking shots are still struggling to find timely and convenient appointments and calling friends and family for help.

That’s why 13-year-old Eli Coustan of the Chicago suburb of Evanston turned his tech skills to creating a website originally intended to help family and friends navigate the complex process of finding a life-saving vaccination. Now the website——gets more than 10,000 unique visitors a day from people seeking help with their search.

Coustan and his mother Hillary told their story to AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger during a recent episode of the “AMA COVID-19 Update.”

First, Eli helped his grandparents secure COVID-19 vaccination appointments at the local grocery-store chain by repeatedly checking the store’s website.

“But,” he said, “I realized that there were so many other people that didn't have somebody that could look for them and that were having issues getting the appointments, so that I helped some other friends of my grandparents.

“And from there, I realized that there were only so many people I could help.”

His solution was, an appointment aggregator and eligibility list that allows users to search from a list of vaccination sites with available appointments and capture names, appointments, locations, addresses and websites for users. Eli has built websites before, but nothing this sophisticated.

“I had built one for my bar mitzvah, built one for some family friends. So, I had built general websites before, but nothing with as many visitors as I noticed that there were other states that had a similar volunteer-run website This was at the beginning of February, I think.

“They were pretty big, not as big as they are now, but I got the inspiration from that. And I did some research and figured out how they were doing it. And I think within a day or two, I had a working prototype.”

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Hillary noted that equity and privacy issues were important to Eli, who realized that helping more people created more privacy concerns.

“He was really sensitive to the fact that people have to give him their information for him to book appointments. And so he had wanted to help teachers, for example, at his school. And we talked about— well, should he tell the principal to let the teachers know that he's available? But then they'd have to give him their birth date, their address, their phone number.”

But a website could provide secure access to the personal information while automating the search process. Eli now has more than a dozen volunteers updating the database and he continues to integrate more sites into the search function. He is also working on translating the site into Spanish to expand access.

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The AMA has developed a template to assist physicians and practice staff in responding to the continued high volume of patient inquiries about COVID-19 vaccinations. The template can be updated as vaccine distribution and administration procedures and protocols change.

Practices may want to proactively provide information about vaccine availability and how to access the vaccines, which can cut down the number of calls from patients. Practices could also reach out to patients via a health system’s patient portal and direct them to the most reliable source of information in your state, which may be a health department website, state vaccination coordinator, dedicated call center or pharmacy.

The AMA's COVID-19 vaccines guide for physicians contains background and actions, evidence-based messaging guidance and best practices for consideration in external communications on COVID-19 vaccine topics.

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