2020 included many terrible things. A lot of families faced hardships, lost loved ones and were isolated.

A year later, families are still losing loved ones to COVID-19.

Some families are still losing loved ones due to lack of healthcare access, in part because of the strain COVID-19 has placed on healthcare systems. Families are still losing loved ones to suicide, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

COVID has come at a high cost.

But, as the holiday season dawns upon us, I have to say I am grateful to be in 2021 instead of 2020. A year where vaccines are widely available in the US, making it safer not only to go to the grocery store, but to gather with friends and family. I am grateful to be geographically close enough to family to spend time with them regularly. I have these two adorable nephews who I got to pick out pumpkins with last month.

This is what life is for, you know?

Cotton candy, pumpkins, fall overalls, family dinner. Part of what makes that gathering safe(r) is the COVID-19 vaccine. I know there are people who are scared to get vaccinated. I know (and love) people who don’t think they need to be vaccinated. I know people who believe the vaccine is BAD NEWS. But I’ve spoken with enough folks who have lost someone they love to COVID to know that the vaccine is a blessing.

We are so, so incredibly lucky to have a vaccine available and accessible.

Protect yourself and your community. Get vaccinated if you can.

I know, I know, not every case of COVID is serious. Some people are asymptomatic, some people have mild flu like symptoms. But the trick of that is you don’t know ahead of time if you’ll be someone with no symptoms or someone on a ventilator. Sure, you can evaluate risk and make a decision based on your age and health conditions, but sometimes people are just unlucky. That could be you. Not to mention, some of us are terrible at evaluating risk. I have seen more than one person underestimate their risk of harm from COVID and overestimate their risk of harm from the COVID vaccines. I think sometimes it feels scarier to do something than to do nothing, even if doing nothing poses a higher risk to your health. Please get your vaccine info from a reliable source, like your doctor.

What we know about COVID and what we know about preventing the spread of COVID has changed A LOT since January 2020. There’s been plenty of both updated information and misinformation. I remember some of the earliest stories I wrote on COVID recommended only health professionals wear face masks. Within a few months, I was writing stories on people sewing face masks in mass because everyone needed to wear one and they were difficult to get a hold of.

What we know right now is that COVID-19 is still a threat to our individual and communal health. Socorro County reported 20 new cases Friday and one new death last week. What we know right now is getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will reduce your risk of dying from it.

The COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have against COVID, and we are extremely lucky to have it so quickly. There are many parts of the world where people do not have access to the vaccine yet (a whole other problem).

Last year, I spent the holidays alone. I lived by myself and I was afraid to travel home. The last thing I wanted to do was bring COVID-19 home to my family and get them sick.

Last week, my parents called to ask my Thanksgiving plans.

“Well, I was hoping to spend it with you.”

They were too. All three of us were excited to start making pie plans (it looks like we’ll be having some kind of crustless pumpkin pie).

I am so incredibly grateful to be spending the holidays with family this year. Not via zoom, but actually in the room passing the pie. I am grateful to be vaccinated, to know that my risk of catching and spreading COVID to people I love is much lower than this time last year.

Thank you 2021, and here’s hoping 2022 is better.