Today many families across the country, including my own, are celebrating Newroz – an occasion which marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year.
For Kurds, like me, Iranians, Afghans and many others, Newroz is one of the most important times of the year. It is traditionally celebrated by visiting your loved ones, and sharing sweets, pastries and tea with the many visitors who come knocking on your door.
It is a time for renewed hope and to look towards new beginnings. The story behind Newroz is one of overcoming hardship and celebrating freedom – which is all the more poignant this year, of all years.
I have hugely fond memories of hosting the annual Newroz reception in the Houses of Parliament and celebrating with my community. For me, it is a particularly special day as it is the day my father proposed to my mother.
But with the ongoing pandemic and national restrictions in place in the United Kingdom, I recognise that it will not be quite the same. Many of us, including myself, will be longing for a time when we can be around our families and remembering those who we have lost this year to this awful virus.
As the Vaccine Deployment Minister for the UK, there is one thing I am certain of – it is the vaccine that will get us back to normal. It is how we will protect our communities, our friends, family and all our loved ones.
The incredible vaccine rollout taking place across the UK has given us reason to be hopeful, especially for the year ahead. With over 26 million people receiving their first doses and counting, I have no doubt we will put this pandemic behind us, one jab at a time.
The success of our rollout is a huge testament to the extraordinary effort of our National Health Service (NHS), the army of volunteers and the local communities who have come together to protect our loved ones.
My team and I are also working closely with faith leaders, community organisations and charities to make sure we are doing all we can to protect our communities from coronavirus and get vaccines to as many people as possible.
We are providing access to advice from the NHS, clinicians and experts at every possible opportunity to support people getting the jab and anyone who might have questions about how to get a vaccine.
I know some people have concerns over what goes into the vaccines, and whether it is halal. But the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed there are no animal products in the vaccines and imams have declared them to be halal.
I am delighted that I received my jab yesterday. I want to urge you all to encourage your family and friends, when the call comes, to take up the offer of a vaccine. The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are safe and effective. MHRA and their European counterpart, the European Medicines Agency, have reassured us that the benefits of both vaccines in preventing transmission and saving lives far outweigh the risks.
Spring is the season of renewal and new beginnings and I am hopeful the vaccine will help put this dreadful winter behind us and breathe new life back into our country.
So to everyone who is celebrating today, Newroz Pîroz Be and my warmest wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.