While most middle schoolers are spending their free time scrolling through TikTok or finishing homework, one seventh grader is using his for good by helping elderly New Yorkers book COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Sam Keusch, 12, has so far helped 1,650 people secure vaccine bookings thanks to the "Vaccine Helper" website he built as part of his Bar Mitzvah project.
"I've had people tell me that they finally get to see their grandchildren for the first time. And that's amazing, because not being able to see your grandchildren is tough," he told CBS News.
Sam said he got the idea for his website after watching his father help his grandparents and neighbors in Scarsdale book appointments online, which often requires patience, constant page refreshing and the ability to type quickly.
"I was already thinking of a Bar Mitzvah project, and I thought that it couldn't be that hard, so I decided to help them out," he said.
With some help from his dad, Sam launched VaccineHelper.com, which allows eligible people struggling to book appointments to give Sam their information so that he can book for them.
"The appointment websites flicker with new appointments periodically, and they often last several seconds before they are claimed, at which point they state there are no appointments. If you're fast enough, and persistent enough, you can get the appointment," Sam explained on the site. "I think of it like a video game and try to be the first to get it. So I can't guarantee that you will get an appointment, but I will do everything I can to get it."
One of Sam's neighbors, a Holocaust survivor currently fighting cancer, told News 12 that Sam helped her secure an appointment in January, which then enabled her to begin chemotherapy treatment. She told 30 friends about Sam's help, and soon, he had helped them, too.
"None of them knew how to go through the system with the government," she told the outlet. "I still get phone calls thanking me because they had the shot because Sam helped them."
Sam said on his website that he hopes to book three to four appointments each day, but that the total varies based on his schedule.
He told News 12 that his computer at home has homework on one side of the screen, and appointment bookings on the other.
"It's a pretty amazing thing," he said. "Now they kind of get their life back to normal."
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