2021... the year of the vaccine, hope and heroes

IT started in silence. In a contrast to every other year in living memory, the arrival of New Year’s Day in 2021 was met without cheers, hugging, clinking glasses in pubs and visiting neighbours with coal for good luck. We were, by then, back in lockdown.

For some of us unlucky enough to have received a positive PCR test in the past two weeks the year is ending much the same as it began, in isolation, For most others though, we are as a society in a much better place as we face into 2022 thanks largely to the arrival and success of the vaccine roll outs.

Like many, I was thankful to be able to get my booster in recent weeks. It provides some comfort at a time when Omicron is running rampant.

Strange to think it is just 12 months since the first of the various vaccines was being approved as governments across the globe set up what has proved to be the biggest public health programme the world has ever witnessed. The vaccine operation has been incredible and the health care staff at the forefront of it have once again proved their worth.

Derry Journal People of the Year Awards winners pictured with the May of Derry and Strabane Alderman Graham Warke, Adrian Logan, compere for the evening and Paul McLean from Principal Sponsor BetMcLean . Photo: George Sweeney. DER2139GS – 063

We will never know how many lives have been saved due to the vaccines, but there are people walking about today, perhaps members of our families, who would not be with us without it. Having had COVID myself for the past week brings that home. It’s a scary thing. We have seen how it can affect people of all ages, walks of life, even people from within the same household, in very different ways, and how being relatively young and healthy is no guarantee of escaping unscathed. There are still so many unknowns.

But, despite the virulence of this new Omicron strain and the potential for more ‘variants of concern’ to plague us in 2022, despite potential new restrictions and uncertainty over what will or won’t be announced in the coming weeks, we are still in a much better place than we were a year ago.

The roll out of the vaccines over the course of this year has allowed for the gradual reopening of society, and the return for many of the things denied us.

We have been able to visit people, go places, and do things we haven’t been able to for much for the previous 12 months. We could attend festivals and board flights, dine out, dance and drink in a pub, even hop on a plane.

The Covid-19 vaccination centre in Derry's Foyle arena which has reopened to cope with demand for the booster vaccination. Picture Martin McKeown. 15.12.21

And in 2021 the people of the north west - the community groups, charities and the individuals who have been at the vanguard of protecting our society since the pandemic began, once again came through alongside the heath care workers.

The summer of festivals, the concerts and performances in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone right thorugh to Hallowe’en and the Switch Ons at Christmas were vital not just for bringing entertainment and a splash of colour back to our streets and neighbourhoods but also for our mental health, particularly so for children and those who live alone. So too was the return of sporting fixtures and the incredible achievements of Derry City FC this year has done so much to lift the spirits of people of all ages.

The reopenings also allowed for some outstanding individuals to rise to the fore and receive the recognition they wholeheartedly deserve. There was something very special about being there at the finish line as Derry’s Ironman Danny Quigley was met by his family and Mayor Graham Warke following his incredible feat for suicide awareness. Derry’s Paralympian Jason Smyth, tireless detox campaigner Tamzin White, the mica affected homeowners in Inishowen who took their campaign for 100% redress to the seat of power in Dublin, community heroes like Micky Doherty and ARC founder Gary Rutherford were also among the many people who led from the front.

A personal highlight for me as Editor of the Journal in 2021 was this newspaper being able to stage the People of the Year Awards once again. It was a special night and an honour to have so many incredible people gathered in the same room at The Everglades back in September. All the winners and nominees were outstanding, as are the many, many in our community whose heroism, kindness and care for others each day goes unsung. With so many incredible people and organisations among us, we can surely face whatever 2022 will hold in store with optimism and hope for brighter days ahead.

MICA protesters in Dublin.