LOCKDOWN is hard.

I recognise that I’m among the lucky people who are still able to work full time and largely from home, and that many others are having a much tougher time of it. But I, too, find all of this difficult. Being unable to meet friends, hug my parents, or indeed visit people, organisations, and businesses in my constituency due to being in a full national lockdown is a rotten way to start a new year.

However, as much as the current situation looks grim to us all, the light at the end of the tunnel has now multiplied itself into three. The latest vaccine to be approved for use in the UK from Moderna joins Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca in gaining licence for use to immunise our population against Covid-19.

As was to be expected, the roll-out of the vaccine has sparked much discussion about who should be where in the queue to receive it. The initial priority groups of course include people over the age of 80 and those who live in care homes – undoubtedly the most at-risk groups for falling seriously ill with Covid-19.

Frontline health workers and care home staff are also a priority group. These professions comprise of some amazing men and women, who have been on the forefront of protecting people – often putting themselves close to the virus (and potentially in harm’s way) – yet have carried out their jobs with the people they care for being their prime concern and motivation.

My own constituency has seen incidents of Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes. Myself and Bruce Crawford MSP have been in close contact with NHS Forth Valley and Stirling Council as all efforts are focused on extinguishing the spread of the virus among extremely vulnerable care home residents.

However, this can end in a devastating loss of life and my heart breaks for families who have had a loved one taken from them by this terrible disease, especially in circumstances when they have no way of seeing them beforehand.

I also know that incidents such as these can have a severe impact on care home staff, not to mention the risks the virus itself poses to them. There has been talk before about how working in such an environment, where many of the people they care for are falling seriously ill, can be to the detriment of their mental health.

I therefore welcome Health Secretary Jeane Freeman’s confirmation that the vaccine roll-out in Scotland will see these priority groups receive their first of two jabs by February – that’s around 560,000 people, more than 10% of the Scottish population.

There is tremendous work ongoing to ensure that this is the case. At the start of this week, the total number of people in Scotland having had their first jab of the Covid vaccine sat at 163,000. Once these key groups have been immunised, the roll-out will reach the over-75s, then the over-70s, then the over-65s, and so on with the aim to ensure that every adult over 18 in Scotland will have been offered a vaccine by autumn – an incredible 4.4 million people.

READ MORE: Union calls for teachers to be prioritised in Covid vaccine roll-out

Of course, how groups are prioritised is (and should always be) led by clinical advice. However, if there is a case to further prioritise certain sector workers, we need to talk about vaccinating teachers and learning staff.

This is not to discriminate against other workers, for whom there may also be a case to prioritise the vaccine, but school staff often joke that under normal circumstances the buildings they work in can be “germ factories”. When one child comes to school with a cold, quite often the majority of the classroom can come down with it.

Indeed, a number of schools in the Stirling area had to self-isolate certain year groups in response to positive tests for Covid-19 or contact tracing. Immediately before the festive break, one high school in the Stirling area had to shut its doors entirely following an outbreak.

I am not making the case for keeping schools closed until teachers are vaccinated – there is a balancing act to be judged between the threat of the prevalence of the virus and the detrimental effect that missing out on school can have on children and young people.

I also share the First Minister’s view that schools and nurseries should be among the first places to re-open, as soon as it’s judged safe to do so.

The life chances of our younger generations, particularly for early years, relies heavily on the face-to-face and social contact that school and nursery provides. But it is undoubtedly the case that teachers and learning assistants are working in a riskier environment than many.

However, there is a lot to consider, and I reiterate that all of this must be guided by what clinical experts are saying.

I started this week’s column by stating that we’ve kicked off a new year in a pretty rotten way, and that remains true.

But I have to say that I’m taking real comfort in the First Minister’s daily vaccine roll-out figures. For nearly a year now, we’ve had the harrowing daily reports of new cases of Covid, hospital admissions, and deaths.

Now we hear alongside that a fast-increasing number of people who have received their Covid vaccine.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and as more and more vaccines become available, that light is getting brighter by the day.