As we face into the bleak pre-Christmas weeks, and another lockdown from next Friday, a ray of light has appeared. The Department of Health has announced that Northern Ireland will receive enough doses of two of the front-running vaccines to enable the entire population to receive the required two jabs.
And to add to the optimism the belief is the vaccines could be available before Christmas.
For vulnerable people, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, this news could certainly be a game changer. Providing that the vaccines live up to the claims made for them already and receive the appropriate authorisation, it means that those most at risk from Covid-19 could look forward to next year with renewed hope and a return to near normal living.
It is difficult to over-estimate what this would mean to those people, many of whom have been living in virtual isolation since March.
And it would also mean that business could be given the desperately needed kickstart it requires. That would be a massive boost to the hospitality industry which is on its knees due to repeated lockdowns – the latest announced just last night – and uncertainty over the future.
But, as ever, there are caveats to this announcement. Development of the two drugs — Pfizer and Oxford vaccines — has been astoundingly rapid and although no negative results have been recorded from the large pools of people on whom the vaccines have been tested, there will always be some public reserve until official authorisation is given.
The only test that cannot be given for obvious reasons is the long term effects of the drugs. And that is something which concerns some people.
There are many keyboard warriors trying to undermine public confidence in the drugs and the net result — as one medical expert pointed out yesterday — is that it could negate the benefits of the vaccines.
The World Health Organisation estimates that a 70% uptake of the vaccines is required to break transmission of the virus.
And one key group being targeted are staff in the NHS. In the swine flu outbreak in 2009/10, only around 53% of health and social care workers took the vaccine that winter.
Any reluctance among medics and nurses to take the anti-Covid-19 vaccines could send a negative message to members of the public.
Ultimately people want their lives back as close to normal as possible and they will have to make their own judgement on whether to take the jab or not when the vaccines arrive.