THE problem with this pandemic is that we are constantly being bombarded with bad news from all angles.
If it’s not Dr Tony Holohan fretting about the rising Covid case numbers, it’s Micheál Martin worrying whether our ICUs will be over-run. Nightmare scenarios are commonly evoked.
On the other side of the coin, we only ever hear about the damage done by lockdowns and restrictions on our movements and the economy: The financial cost and the harm to mental health.
Then you get the doom-mongers on the fringes who think the vaccine is a secret plan by Bill Gates to take over the human race, or whatever gibberish they’re offering this week.
It all adds up to a depressing concoction of doom and gloom and bellyaches, where worst case scenarios are frequently posited, and there is a race to the bottom for who can predict the most hellish future.
It’s the same with climate change. It’s as though the only way the public can be taught to wear a mask or stop driving their gas-guzzling car is via a barrage of nightmare predictions.
The media dutifully, and correctly, reports all this bad news... but it’s little wonder that many of us switch on the TV or pick up a newspaper and tumble into the slough of despond.
(It’s not a bad choice of phrase, considering: In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s protagonist slips into a deep bog under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt for them - and that’s exactly what often happens when we hear the latest Covid or climate change story).
I found myself slipping into this same mental morass last week, when I wrote of my fears (in my column here) that the centre ground was not holding any more in this country, and that the nation was being fractured by the great debate about whether to close society again, despite our high vaccination uptake, and essentially admit defeat in the battle against Covid for another winter.
I’m normally much more upbeat - so this week I decided to take a leaf out of Monty Python’s book and look on the bright side of life.
That’s when I caught an expert on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC offering some views about the pandemic which were a long way away from the usual portents of disaster.
His name is Professor Andrew Pollard, and he is director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which has provided two billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine globally in the past 11 months.
Professor Pollard coolly, rationally and matter-of-factly stated that all the various Covid vaccines may have prevented 300,000 deaths so far in the UK.
And that little snippet stopped me in my tracks.
Three hundred thousand people alive now, in one country, because of the miracle of the vaccines? That’s amazing.
In fact, when you roll it out to the whole of the western world, we’re surely talking well in excess of millions of lives being saved in 2021 by those jabs.
Rightly, we mourn all the people who have sadly succumbed, and who are still succumbing, to Covid-19 - more than 5,600 people in Ireland alone.
But shouldn’t we all take some out to register the fact that the vaccines are saving lives every single day - some of whom may have been our friends, family, and loved ones?
At the start of the year, we were all about the vaccines: we could barely believe the miraculously swift turnaround between scientists identifying the virus and finding a way to zap it in its tracks.
But, after we queued up in halls up and down the land for our two jabs, we all became a bit blasé about them.
I think we’re all ignoring the reality of what life would have been like here since the spring if the vaccines hadn’t arrived.
They say eaten bread is soon forgotten, but we should all take a moment to bear in mind that, while the story of 2020 was Covid-19, the story of 2021, and of 2022, will be of the vaccines.
These beauties are saving lives across the planet every day: 300,000 in the UK alone, as that placid Professor stated.
“When you look at the data on lives saved so far this year, we’re actually not far off to actually think that that is the right number,” he said.
Doesn’t that make a change from a wagging finger urging you to curb your contacts?
It got me thinking: How many lives have been saved in Ireland by the Covid vaccines?
It’s clearly not an exact science, but it’s fun to have a guess. It certainly cheered me up when I tried to work out the number.
In terms of population, 300,000 people in the UK translates to perhaps 25,000 lives in Ireland... saved by the likes of Messrs Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
This is just extraordinary. We should be shouting it from the rooftops.
Twenty-five thousand lives: That’s the population of Ennis or Kilkenny city, or of Midleton and Mallow combined, who weren’t laid to rest in 2021, just because of the vaccine.
That’s an awful lot of grief averted. And an awfully big reason to get the jab if you haven’t already.
Perhaps I am even under-estimating this miracle.
We have a higher rate of vaccination than the UK, so that surely means we’ll save more lives here.
Recently, Dr Annie Curtis, president of the Irish Society of Immunology, stated that deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland would be 10 times higher if there were no vaccines
“It is difficult to model, but estimates would suggest that if we didn’t have vaccines in Ireland, we would have ten times higher deaths in this country. That would be 50,000 deaths.”
That’s 45,000 lives saved then!
Maybe, just maybe, Dr Holohan or the Taoiseach could mention these figures the next time they are warning the country about the latest rise in positive cases.
Incidentally, why are we - and I include myself in this - still transfixed and obsessing about the daily positive case numbers, when the vast majority of these are people who are asymptomatic or have mild cases of the disease?
The only numbers that should matter are those in hospitals and ICUs with Covid, and of course the tragic toll of fatalities.
They are the figures that will affect whether the country can remain open, or whether we need to protect our health service in the months ahead.
For now, I am going to remember that figure of 25,000, and raise a toast to the people who made the vaccine, to those who administered it across the land, and to those who took it. That’s how many lives you have saved in this small country in a single year.
Now, did that cheer you up?