After a year of living through the realities of pandemic life, Will Kurka and Noah Lika wanted to do something to help get their world back to normal.
The Bay Shore High School seniors have a knack with computers and saw a way to help their parents and grandparents, who were having trouble trying to get vaccine appointments online.
Kurka and Lika, who both compete for the Bay Shore track and field team, created livaccinefinders.com, a free website launched last month that aims to help senior citizens and those with underlying conditions schedule vaccination appointments without the hassle or frustration of navigating the New York State website.
"A lot of our parents were having technical difficulties," said Kurka, 18, of Fire Island. "It’s extremely hard to navigate the NYS website sometimes. We want to simplify the process as much as possible with our one-stop website. We do the complicated part."
"It’s pretty much like getting the front row ticket to a concert. It’s whoever gets it first," said Lika, 17, of Bay Shore. "That’s how it is with the vaccine website."
Lika continued: "They’re hundreds of people on these websites and it’s pretty much whoever clicks it first [gets the appointment]. That’s something that I couldn’t see my grandparents, or someone who doesn’t have a technological background, doing."
Website users fill out a form with all the information required to schedule an appointment as they would through the New York State website. That information is then fed to Kurka and Lika, who go to work on making the appointments.
"Whenever we get a chance to, which we do a few times per day, we’re able to log on to the vaccine website and copy and paste what people told us, make a vaccine appointment, and send them the actual registration ticket," Lika said.
Lika said they are usually able to schedule between 20-30 appointments per day.
"A majority of times, we get back to people within a couple of days," Kurka said. "Sometimes people have signed up and we managed to get [them] appointments a couple hours after they signed up, for the next day even. It’s been working perfectly."
The success of the website is due, at least in part, to the sheer amount of time Lika and Kurka put into it. Not everyone has the time, or patience, to use the website as frequently as they do – which is why booking an appointment has been difficult for some, Lika said.
"We’re high school students and we’re seniors, so this time of the year, we have a bit more time to do stuff," Lika said. "For people who go to work every day and don’t really have the time to sit on a website and keep refreshing to see if they could get an appointment, [it’s] just really troubling."
That’s part of the reason why John Roe decided to use the website. Roe, who is a business partner of Lika’s father, said the site helped he and his wife Debra get appointments after they grew exasperated trying to get one on their own on the New York State website.
"You sit there and you keep trying to do this and it’s a very frustrating thing, so you’re always in a little bit of this tail chase and it just wasn’t working," said Roe, 63, of Rockville Centre. "We had both signed up for Noah’s site and we didn’t have to do anything. They did all the work and all of a sudden we got notified by the state that we had an appointment at Jones Beach."
Roe added: "It was easier and it cut down on extreme frustration with the state."
Kurka, who was adopted from Guatemala at nine months old and has lived on Fire Island ever since, said he’s always had a drive to help those in need. He’s organized clothing drives through Bay Shore High School to provide for homeless shelters.
"I try to understand what it’s like to have a little bit less," he said. "I try to appreciate everything that I do have. I don’t want to take things for granted, knowing that some people do have less is unfortunate, and I want to try to help out in the best way I possibly can."
Kurka and Lika are both undecided on a college choice. Kurka wants to major in economics and Lika is interested in computer science.
As vaccine eligibility expands, Kurka and Lika said that anyone who needs help is welcome to use the website, but they will still prioritize senior citizens and those with underlying conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19.
"Over time I’ve had people come to me, being like, ‘Hey, why aren’t you charging people?' " Lika said. "But that’s one of the things we didn’t want to do. We just really wanted to help people and ultimately put this pandemic to an end with the whole vaccine rollout, especially because that process right now is really, really hard."