As millions throughout the country are having difficulty securing appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Princeton Day School alumnus Ben Cohen '11 took matters into his own hands to find a solution. Cohen created a website that tracks available vaccine appointments at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens pharmacies across the U.S. His efforts were recently covered by CBS News in Austin, Texas and word is spreading to other news outlets.
Cohen, who works as a software programmer in Massachusetts, initially created the site after struggling to find an appointment for his mother, who is in a high-risk group. He decided to make his work available to the public in hopes of helping others. "I realized if I could keep track where people were looking, and keep track of where the spots were opening up, I could play match maker and send them a notification," Cohen shared in the CBS News report.
By simply signing up with a name, phone number and choosing a proximity to a zip code, the site sends text message alerts when appointments become available at pharmacy locations within the established parameters. "My hope for the site was to reduce stress for anyone searching for appointments, either for themselves or for a loved one," Ben noted. "I chose to use text messages for the site because texting has become normalized across generations and I wanted it to be as easy as possible for anyone to use," he added.
Cohen credited his PDS experience for teaching him to view the ways in which he can apply what he does to the broader community. "I enjoy the interdisciplinary aspect of thinking how different subjects connect to each other as opposed to living in isolation. Steve Bailey helped me to understand that during my time at PDS" he said. (Steve is a former Upper School Math teacher and Technology Coordinator.)
"My day job is writing software for advanced software people, so it can be easy to stay in that proverbial box. It is helpful for me to have the perspective of how what I do ties into adjacent subjects in the community around me," Cohen continued.
According to the CBS News report, more than 8,000 people have secured appointments with help from Ben's website since it went live last Tuesday. Just Ben and two close friends manage the site at the moment, though he is considering enlisting more help as the site continues to grow and demand continues to soar.
Photo: Ben Cohen working on his computer (courtesy of the CBS News report from Austin, TX )