‘A Bit of Light on the Horizon’

What it felt like to witness some of the first coronavirus vaccinations in Britain. Plus, what we’re listening to.

Hi Daily friends,

We’ve really loved hearing from so many of you this week as you’ve shared voice notes about your small victories, personal milestones and moments of joy from this year. In case you missed it on the show, Michael Barbaro asked listeners to send in their good news from 2020 for a potential episode; if you want to contribute and share any happy thing (big or small!), please record a memo on your phone and send it to us at [email protected]

But first, a quick recap of the week: On Monday, we called one election official in Georgia to understand why he’s speaking out against the president. On Tuesday, we listened to the sounds of a refugee camp on the U.S. border, and we asked whether federal immigration policy will change under President-elect Joe Biden. On Wednesday, we reported on the ground in Britain, the first country to start administering a fully tested coronavirus vaccine. On Thursday, we investigated why the United States turned down a vaccine stockpile, and on Friday we created a guide to Georgia’s Senate runoff elections.

This weekend, be sure to check out the latest episode of Modern Love. We’ll see you next week!

The beginning of the end of the pandemic

Megan Specia, a story editor based in London, takes us behind the scenes on Wednesday’s show:

By Megan Specia

This week, I watched as a pharmacist mixed a saline solution into a tiny vial, before drawing the mixture up into five syringes. The syringes each contained one dose of the new Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and this was the first day that the drug was being given to people in Britain after receiving emergency approval a week earlier.

I’ve spent much of the past nine months reporting and editing stories about the devastating effects that the coronavirus has had around the world, and like many, I saw the pandemic halt many parts of my everyday life. I had spent weeks hearing about this vaccine. So to actually see this potentially lifesaving mixture — tiny vials which could prove vital in stopping this pandemic — being prepared for injection was surreal.

But getting access to see the vaccine first hand wasn’t easy. In the lead-up to the first day of vaccinations, I asked clinics across the country for access, only to hit brick walls. Then I called Chris Hingston, a doctor who works in an intensive care unit of a hospital in Cardiff, Wales; he agreed to let me and Andrew Testa, a photographer, tag along as he received one of the first vaccines administered in the country. We jumped at the opportunity.

So on Tuesday, I rushed from my home in London before dawn, and took a train northwest to Cardiff to meet with Chris before his vaccine appointment.

When we arrived at the vaccination center, I was initially struck by just how normal it all seemed. The shots were being given out in a room that resembled a high school gym, with basketball hoops on the walls and lines painted on the wooden floor. In a separate room, a pharmacist prepared the vaccines and loaded them into syringes to be used by the nurses.

When it was Chris’s turn, he was ushered over to one of the small cubicles. A nurse rolled back his T-shirt sleeve, swabbed his skin with an alcohol pad, then inserted the needle of a syringe into his arm and pulled the plunger. It was over in seconds — an experience he likened to getting a flu shot.

Standing under the basketball hoops, it was difficult to feel the significance of the moment: the first day that the first clinically authorized, fully tested vaccinations were given out to the public anywhere in the world. Then I met Betty Spear, a retired nurse who was giving out vaccines that day.

She had just finished vaccinating a fellow nurse, who openly wept as she received the shot, so overcome by the prospect of finally being vaccinated. The woman had worked in a Covid ward.

“I presume she has seen a lot,” Ms. Spear said. Hearing this story, the magnitude of the day hits home.

Despite the hope the vaccine has brought, very little has changed for most of us in Britain. I masked up and sanitized my hands as I boarded the train home that night, and I’ll still be social distancing and doing most of my work from home. There will continue to be widespread new infections here until more people can be vaccinated. And too many people will still, sadly, die from this virus.

But now, there is also a feeling that it won’t be this way forever here. And for the first time since March, there’s a bit of light on the horizon.

Talk to Megan on Twitter: @meganspecia.

Music to escape from your pandemic winter

Last week, we asked you all for your watching recommendations. Thanks to you, we’re queuing up “Flight Attendant,” “My Octopus Teacher” and “Industry” this weekend, and we now have enough shows to binge through the end of 2020.

As a little exchange, we wanted to share some music recommendations. Here’s what some of our Daily producers have on their playlists right now:

Old school South African jams

I just discovered a playlist of old ’80s hits from South Africa that I’ve been loving. Standouts whom I hadn’t heard before include Abdullah Ibrahim and Mafikizolo. I’m especially drawn to Ibrahim, because he comes from the same jazz tradition of Hugh Masekela, my favorite jazz artist (they used to play together). The playlist is meditative and relaxing, but it also has fun, downright goofy songs filled with so much joy that I forget just how dated they sound.

Michael Simon Johnson

A soulful sibling band

Early in the pandemic, my friend sent me a message on Instagram asking me if I had heard of Infinity Song. I was instantly hooked. The group members are siblings, and their covers of my favorites — including Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees — keep me scrolling nonstop through their feed, soaking in their soulful voices and killer fashion sense. In lieu of live music, their videos have brought joy and music to my days at home!

Sydney Harper

Three heartbreakingly good ballads

Over the past year, I’ve found myself driving around in a car regularly for the first time in over a decade. Although I miss biking around New York, I’ve found something sacred in the time spent driving through rural America. I’ve rediscovered a love of country music, and here are three heartbreakingly good ballads that I find myself recommending to all my friends.

Andy Mills

Dreamsicle” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The power of this ballad is Jason Isbell’s ability to tell a story with vivid images: “A dreamsicle on a summer night / In a folding lawn chair / Daddy’s howling at the moon / Better get home soon / Heat lightning in the evening sky / And my mama’s red hair.” And the way he sings this is as if he might die if he doesn’t get it all out.

Small Town Hypocrite” by Caylee Hammack: This is a coming-of-age ballad gone wrong. Hammock sings about a young girl who couldn’t wait to get out of her small town, but falls under the intoxicating spell of a man who ends up anchoring her there. When he eventually leaves her, her tearful anger is embodied by her singing the line, “I made myself into someone else just to love you.”

Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn with Kacey Musgraves: Kacey was 4 when the original recording of “Neon Moon” topped the charts in 1992. When she sings the climactic line, “The words to every sad song seem to say what I think,” it’s easy to see how this song has the legs to live for generations.

(An editor’s plug: I grew up in Arkansas and now live in London, and some days I’m not quite sure where home is. But this year, I’ve heard home in this song. There’s a longing in Kacey’s voice that makes it universally relatable, especially during a pandemic. Give it a listen, you might hear what you’re missing, too. — Lauren Jackson)

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