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Her Second Act: COVID-19 Vaccine Hunter

Marianne Sughrue credits her success at it partly to a history of snagging Springsteen tickets

By Andy Levine

"Saturday Night Live" recently parodied the COVID-19 vaccine rollout with a game show called "So You Think You Can Get the Vaccine?" In it, Dr. Anthony Fauci (played by Kate McKinnon) said: "Getting the vaccine shouldn't be a competition. But Americans will only want to get it if it means someone else can't."

Middle aged woman posing backstage with musician Bruce Springsteen, vaccine, Next Avenue
Vaccine Hunter Marianne Sughrue with Bruce Springsteen  |  Credit: courtesy of Marianne Sughrue

"Winning" that competition lately has sometimes meant getting help from a volunteer vaccine hunter proficient in securing COVID-19 vaccination appointments for others. One of those vaccine hunters is Marianne Sughrue, a recently retired information technology manager in Bridgewater, N.J. who has helped more than 120 people — a mix of older adults, tech challenged individuals and full-time workers with minimal free time – win the golden ticket.

"It's going in there and having things pre-populated and hitting refresh, refresh, refresh. You lost that one. Refresh again and keep trying."

Sughrue (who I recently interviewed for my podcast, "Second Act Stories") credits her vaccination-appointment success, in part, to over 40 years of snagging much-coveted tickets to Bruce Springsteen concerts.

Her First Act in IT

Before her second act, Sughrue had a long career as a project manager with AT&T, Telecordia and NCS Technologies. She retired in 2018 at 60 and has since been busy with an eclectic schedule of volunteer activities including judging ice skating competitions, helping rescue dogs from "kill shelters" and assisting a food pantry.

But her greatest passion is being a longtime, devoted Bruce Springsteen fan.

"When my younger sister was sixteen, she wanted to go see Springsteen in Madison Square Garden. My mom would not let her go alone with her friends. I had to take her," recalls Sughrue. "So, it was Thanksgiving night 1980. I'm rolling my eyes, because I had to take these kids into the city. I got to the show and I was floored. He sucked me right in."

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Since then, she has attended over 225 Springsteen concerts and followed him for a 2017 concert tour in Australia.

Springsteen Tickets and COVID-19 Appointments

So, what does getting to see The Boss have to do with finding COVID-19 vaccination appointments?

"You can look at a [COVID-19 vaccination] appointment like getting a concert ticket. People are competing for the same spots. It's logic...it's a strategy...it's going in there and having things pre-populated and hitting refresh, refresh, refresh. You lost that one. Refresh again and keep trying."

Mike Maggio, a former work colleague of Sughrue's at NCS Technologies, is one of the people who benefited from this vaccine hunter's talent. "I tried to get online, and the computer would just freeze. I could never get an appointment. I kept getting emails saying, 'You're on the list. Please be patient.' So when Marianne offered to help, I said 'Sure.' I had an appointment scheduled in less than twenty-four hours."   

Sughrue spends 10 to 15 hours a week working assorted COVID-19 vaccination websites and pursuing appointments for her Garden State neighbors.

"It's not too encompassing. This morning, I got up at 7:30 and saw that CVS was open [with appointments]. Over the next three hours, I got eight appointments. I'm usually up late when a lot of the websites drop new appointments. So, I'll go and get three or four appointments after midnight."  

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She accepts no compensation for the work. But her new second-act role brings Sughrue tremendous joy.

"Everyone that I help is so grateful and thankful. And whenever I secure an appointment, I do a happy dance and eat a cookie," she said.

Sughrue's 5 Tips to Get a COVID-19 Vaccination Appointment

Here are her five secrets for getting a COVID-19 vaccine:

1. Follow vaccination bots on Twitter for appointment alerts. Said Sughrue: In New Jersey, there are a couple of Twitter bots that go out. Find the right bots in your state. Turn on Notifications, and as soon as you see a tweet announcing that there are openings, be ready to strike."

"I have twenty different windows up in my browser on my laptop waiting for the bot to tell me something is going on."

2. Open multiple windows for vaccination sites on the same computer. That way, you'll boost the chance of securing an opening quickly when a bot tells you there is one. "I have twenty different windows up in my browser on my laptop waiting for the bot to tell me something is going on," said Sughrue.

3. Autofill key fields of the vaccination registrations in advance. "Set up your browser to autofill key fields with the necessary information so you don't have to type it every time," said Sughrue. "You just fill in your first name and then it fills in automatically." This will help you lock in a vaccination appointment opening faster.

4. Don't bother entering irrelevant or optional information on a COVID-19 vaccination site's online form. It just slows you down and could lead to someone else getting an appointment before you do. "Some sites ask for your Social Security number or insurance card," said Sughrue. "Just fill in '1's or No Insurance. You don't have to enter all that stuff."

5. Refresh…refresh…refresh. "This is about speed and the quantity of submissions. Keeping hitting 'refresh' until you've landed an appointment," said Sughrue.

Andy Levine Andy Levine hosts the “Second Act Stories” podcast. Each episode is shared in an engaging, NPR-storytelling style and profiles a courageous individual pursuing a more rewarding life. Check out the stories at SecondActStories.org or wherever you get your podcasts.             Read More
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