CHICAGO — For thousands of Chicago-area residents, finding a COVID-19 vaccine has been challenging and frustrating.
Thanks to a growing community of helpers on social media however, many are finally able to book a coveted vaccine appointment.
Tyler Rickmon, an 18-year-old man from Wilmington, spends about 30 hours a week hunting for COVID-19 vaccines.
Rickmon has congenital heart disease, and is also a student who works full-time. After hours of refreshing his page, he was relieved to score an appointment for his first dose.
“I teared up a little bit because it shouldn’t be this hard,” Rickmon said.
Rickmon helped his family with scheduling appointments after he did for himself, and later joined the Facebook group ‘Chicago Vaccine Hunters’, posting an offer to help others.
“I helped that one person, then I helped another person, and then just posting more I said I’ll try three people,” Rickmon said.
Rickmon is now one of the moderators for the group, which now has nearly 100,000 members. Rickmon said he’s helped about 40 people get appointments, dedicating much of his Saturday nights to his efforts.
Despite the success Rickmon has had finding appointments for many, scheduling vaccine appointments remains a significant challenge for Chicagoans.
“It’s rewarding, but also you feel defeated especially when you sit there for six hours spending your entire Saturday night when most 18-year-olds are doing whatever they’re doing, and you spend those six hours and you don’t get anything. You feel like you let that person down who you said you would help,” Rickmon said.
One of the people he promised to help was Evan Crum from Elk Grove, who was searching for an appointment for his wife, Christina.
“I messaged him, he said I need this appointment for my wife. She’s been trying. I’ve been trying and haven’t gotten anywhere,” Rickmon said.
Several days later, Rickmon found early morning openings at Walgreens and reached out to Crum, who was able to schedule an appointment for his wife.
Crum said he heard of the Chicago Vaccine Hunters page from a WGN story, and wanted to find a way to say thank you in person.
“What you’re doing for our family and for others is a huge mitzpah. It’s outstanding and I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Crum said.
Rickmon said it’s not lost on him when he thinks of those who didn’t survive COVID-19 to get the opportunity to get vaccinated.
Through an unbelievable tumultuous year, Rickmon said he’s just happy to help.
“I know I’m only 18, but if there’s anything I can do, I want this to be it,” Rickmon said.