Wellness Wednesday: How to Survive the Vaccine Hunger Games

Weeks after being buoyed by the encouraging news that remarkably effective coronavirus vaccines had been approved, millions of Americans find ourselves in an exhausting battle to get the vaccine into our arms. We are struggling against often contradictory communication, the lack of supply, and radically uneven access.

Trying to get vaccine is like being in an all too real version of The Hunger Games, a sci-fi story set a dystopian future in which teams of young people vie to survive in a televised fight to the death. Just replace vibrant youth with the frail elderly.

To win, Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen must count on partnership, collaboration, and strength. Here’s how these strategies can help us succeed in the vaccination process and get a needle in our arm.


My husband and I almost lost each other in 2019 when I became very ill while on vacation in Amsterdam. We don’t let a day go by without giving thanks for being together. We know how lucky we are.

We fare better with a partner. Batman had Robin. Roy Rogers had Trigger. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is paired with the kind and loyal Peeta, who also becomes her love interest.

Rachel Wegner’s recent article for the Nashville Tennessean featured newlyweds Florence (age 89) and Rudy (age 86) Saperstein, who married mid-pandemic and were recently vaccinated together. Being together during the social isolation imposed by the coronavirus has bolstered their spirits and kept hope alive.

Life with Florence is good, so I want to keep living

Rudy Saperstein

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an other to love. Reporter Wegner spoke with an infectious disease expert in her reporting, Dr. William Schaffer, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Schaffer confirmed that the psychological impact of COVID-19 on the elderly has been a top concern.

There’s been a sense of removal, loneliness and even depression because their social interactions have been so limited.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


Whether we have a partner or not, it’s collaboration with others that gets the job done. Katniss and Peeta risk working with their competitors to achieve success. In the coronavirus hunger games, while we’re competing with each other to get that needle in our arm, we’re also helping each other get there.

This morning’s edition of The Palm Beach Post included an essay by Jupiter resident Leanna Landsmann entitled “Trying to get a vaccine in Florida ‘Hunger Games’.” About collaboration, Landsmann says:

Friendships now trade in links, tips, and phone numbers. Most don’t pan out, but they enliven the day.

Leanna Landsmann, The Palm Beach Post

As I was finishing this essay, an example of this collaboration came flying in on my iPhone messages. My friend Al Pessin — yes, the author of thriller Sandblast and soon-to-be-released sequel Blowback — wrote to share a trick and a link. Jackson Health is using Twitter to advise when their website will go live with vaccination appointments. If you’re not yet on Twitter, what better time to start?


Hunger Games’ Katniss is an archery whiz and all around athlete. I made it out of the ICU alive because I was very fit going in, but, even having that advantage, I had lost so much muscle in those six weeks that I was unable to move unassisted. It took me a year to fully recover, and I do not ever lose sight of the fact that, one day, something will want to take me down again. When it does, I aim to be as strong as possible.

One year ago this week, we added another soul to our home, our rescue black Lab, Kumba. He was terribly anemic and worn to within an inch of his life when he was flown in from a shelter in Puerto Rico by the Labrador Retriever Recovery of Florida. Kumba and I became part of each other’s recovery journeys over the past twelve months in daily morning walks. Have a look at this transformation, and know that, you too, can succeed in being stronger, a day at a time. Just watch out for unseen corners!

Wishing you love, partnerships, collaboration, and strength in meeting this challenging time!

The True Voice of America

… if you go back and look at the very first transcript of our [Voice of America] broadcast back in 1942 during World War II, the famous quote is “The news may be good, the news may be bad, we shall tell you the truth.” 

Al Pessin, speaking to Catherine Jacobsen, Committee to Protect Journalists
Sandblast, Task Force Epsilon thriller

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists’ Katherine Jacobsen recently interviewed my friend, former VOA journalist Al Pessin (author of the Task Force Epsilon thriller series). Al is my contemporary, but his words harken back to my father’s Foreign Service career in the US Information Agency.

As I’ve written about before, President Eisenhower created USIA after WWII to tell America’s story to the world, a public affairs operation in tandem with the radio and print journalists of the Voice of America. USIA and the VOA fell under partisan attacks periodically and worked hard to earn the confidence of the Congress during my father’s career. Ultimately, USIA was absorbed into the Department of State, where Dad’s work in public diplomacy carries on in American embassies around the world.

The voa is under attack

Now, the VOA and other news outlets that helped the United States to win the Cold War are under partisan attack.

As Nick Schifrin recently reported on the PBS NewsHour, Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, ignored a congressional subpoena to appear before Congress over concerns he has politicized and mismanaged media outlets that helped the U.S. win the Cold War. One of those outlets is Voice of America.

Al Pessin joined his former VOA colleagues in signing a letter to the Acting Director of the VOA objecting to the wholesale firing of management and removal of boards of directors as a witch hunt reminiscent of the Red Scare of the 1950s. Even more damaging was the summary visa revocation of foreign journalists, many of whom may face persecution at home for having worked for the United States. VOA journalists — going against a reporter’s grain by becoming the news — put their careers on the line to object.

He has ordered the firing of contract journalists, with no valid reason, by cancelling their visas, forcing them back to home countries where the lives of some of them may be in jeopardy.

Voice of America journalists

Journalists are not spies

Most damaging of all is his public statement, on a podcast, that the VOA is great cover for our enemies.

A great place to put a foreign spy.

Michael Pack, CEO, US Agency for Global Media, speaking about the Voice of America

Pack’s tossed off remark was recorded in an interview with conservative and pro-Trump The Federalist.

It takes a long time to build the credibility of a news organization and just a brief moment to destroy it … It just shows a complete lack of understanding or disregard for the job that we have to do and potentially for the personal safety of the people trying to do it. 

Al Pessin, retired Voice of America journalist

Handing our enemies a win

Congressman Tom Malinowski, D- NJ, put it like this at the hearing Pack disregarded.

If China, Russia, North Korea, or any of our adversaries, had in fact infiltrated USAGM, they could have not possibly done more harm to America’s interests than Mr. Pack has in fact done on his own.

Congressman Tom Malinowski

With friends like Michael Pack — and presidents like Trump — damaging our democracy from the inside, who needs enemies?

Goodbye, Homeland. Hello, Sandblast.

A book destined to become a best-seller has just come out. It’s by a friend of mine, Al Pessin, and here’s today’s review by Sharon Geltner in the Palm Beach Arts Paper

By Sharon Geltner

Goodbye, Homeland.

Hello, Sandblast.

Showtime’s hit series Homeland ends in May. But covert ops fans can now turn to Sandblast, the first book in an action, adventure and suspense trilogy by Al Pessin, a local author who has covered the world’s hot spots from Afghanistan to Washington, D.C.

The plot: after terrorists blow up a plane carrying the secretary of defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency creates Operation: Sandblast. The top secret asset is California-raised, Afghan-American Lt. Faraz Abdallah. His heritage and military training make him the perfect undercover agent, but can he fool the Taliban? Then can he uncover its terror plots and assassinate the leaders?

The president is on board. “We’re facing our toughest threat since 9-11, and if we don’t handle it right, we could end up living in a very different world, a much more hostile one.” 

Besides the intrepid Lt. Abdallah, the other hero is military and security expert Dr. Bridget Davenport, in a role similar to Carrie Mathison. “She would tell herself they were key players in their generation’s great battle of Good vs. Evil…” 

The book moves fast and the complex plot makes sense. Pessin is most persuasive describing how tough it is for Faraz to maintain two identities at once. He has to fit in, quote the Koran, remember his emergency extraction code, avoid recruitment as a suicide bomber and not be subsumed by the Taliban. 

The Afghan village scenes are plausible. “It does not matter if you die, or if I die, of if we all die, or if our families live in poverty for one hundred generations. What matters is that we work to do Allah’s will.” 

Pessin offers many authentic details at the Pentagon. An outdoor snack bar in the giant, center courtyard is “…nicknamed the Doomsday Café and said to be ground zero for Russian nuclear missiles.” Meanwhile, a “secure conference room” is called “The Tank.” Bridget’s windowless office in “the second basement … is bigger than a cubicle with room for a small table and four chairs.”

Despite her drab office, the Pentagon has its compensations. Bridget is “… an attractive woman in a building where twenty-five thousand men worked.”
Better odds than The Bachelorette! Very promising.

For three months, Bridget has been seeing a handsome man in uniform. But when the two debate whether to call each other sugar pie or sweet cakes, the book hits its only false note. 

Al Pessin. (Courtesy Kensington Books)

Otherwise, Sandblast reads like the real deal, because Pessin did a tremendous amount of research and because his background resembles that of spy novelist and Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius. (In person, Pessin calls to mind CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer in appearance and manner; they’ve been everywhere, know everyone and have a dry sense of humor. And despite highly successful media careers, both give the impression they know lots more than they let on.) 

Pessin was a journalist at Voice of America for 39 years; 15 of them overseas. His first foreign assignment was Hong Kong in 1984. He’s also worked in Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay, Ukraine (in flak jacket and helmet), Jerusalem, London and New York. He enjoyed his first six-month tour in Islamabad so much, he offered to stay longer. 

One of Pessin’s proudest moments came in 1989, when China expelled him for covering the Tiananmen Square massacre. He also reported from the White House and the Pentagon, traveling with two defense secretaries to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“[Years later], when I returned for a visit to Islamabad, I went to the old market and it was tense. All eyes were on me. I was the only foreigner there.” 

Pessin speaks some French, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese. “I wanted to know if the side conversation was discussing lunch or about kidnapping me and selling me to Hamas,” he said. 

He said in Gaza and the West Bank, “Being Jewish was never an issue. No one asked. I felt they didn’t know.”

Pessin was inspired to write Sandblast during his six years at the Pentagon, when he came across an outdoor naturalization ceremony for people who joined the military as legal residents and were then being sworn in as citizens. Their happy and proud families were dressed in colorful dress from their home countries.

“I thought about what sort of unique capabilities they bring to our military. They are our generation’s new Navajo code talkers [from World War II.]” 

Pessin retired in 2015 and moved to Delray Beach. He credits the Writers’ Colony at Old School Square and the Palm Beach Community Educator program for teaching him creative writing. “Non-fiction addresses facts. But fiction can uncover the truth.” He also hired two editors to inspect his manuscript. 

Pessin’s editor at Kensington Press, Michaela Hamilton, likens him to bestselling novelists Nelson DeMille and Daniel Silva.

“I consider ‘Sandblast’ a real find with a fresh perspective and exciting characters. Al is a very multi-talented guy and he has made a lot of smart decisions,” Hamilton said. “He’s ready to break into the big leagues.”