Given the effects of Omicron, many people are hoping to find N95 masks and rapid antigen tests in their stockings this morning. I’m thinking of it as pandemic Christmas version 2.0. Fortunately the variant can’t stop me from drinking mimosas, listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas score or streaming Die Hard (yes, it’s a Christmas movie).

Once again, health news dominated the headlines over the past year. There were COVID-19 variants and successive waves, but really 2021 was the year of the vaccines. The Conversation Canada’s vaccine information series covered front-line questions at a vaccination clinic, what full drug approval means, efficacy and much more.

Some of my favourite articles provided the backstory to the vaccine headlines. For example, how the technology behind some of the COVID-19 vaccines was built decades ago by a Canadian researcher. Or why Canada isn’t manufacturing vaccines here at home. Or why vaccination rates in South Africa matter in Canada.

Other stories responded to high-profile cases of misinformation, like Ivermectin for COVID-19 prevention, or celebrities with huge platforms but little understanding of vaccines and infectious diseases. What struck me about these responses was their honesty and their compassion for people who are often just trying to make choices in the frightening circumstances of a global pandemic.

But even health editors need a break from COVID-19 news, and some of The Conversation Canada's standout health stories this year were unrelated to the pandemic. Some highlights include a story about preventing dog bite injuries, a way to feed premature babies that could help prevent brain impairments and how embedding tiny bits of gold into tumours could improve cancer treatment.

And for anyone who has never outgrown the dream of running away to join the circus, the article about the benefits of teaching kids circus arts is a must-read.

I’m looking forward to being back in your Inbox with more stories in January. Wishing a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and happy holidays and good health to all.

Patricia Nicholson

Health + Medicine Editor

Year in Review: Health

I work at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Here’s what people ask me when they’re getting their shot — and what I tell them

Ehsan Misaghi, University of Alberta

A medical student answers questions he gets asked at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic: Efficacy versus real-world effectiveness, immune response and how the mRNA vaccines compare to vaccines already in wide use.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine now has full FDA approval. Here’s what that means for unvaccinated people, organizations and pharma

Charles Weijer, Western University

The U.S. FDA has approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. How is approval different from emergency use authorization, and what difference will it make to a vaccine that’s already in global use?

How effective are COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s what the stats mean … and what they don’t

Sorana Froda, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM); Fabrice Larribe, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Vaccine efficacy is usually expressed as a percentage, but what is it actually measuring? Statisticians explain what the numbers mean, and what they say about how well a vaccine can protect us.

How the puzzle of viral vector vaccines was solved, leading to today’s COVID-19 shots

Jack Gauldie, McMaster University

Viral vectors are modified viruses that trigger an immune response without causing infection. The vector that’s used in several COVID-19 vaccines was created decades ago by Canadian Frank Graham.

The roots of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine shortage go back decades

Joel Lexchin, University of Toronto

Behind Canada’s current COVID-19 vaccine shortage is a decades-long tale of unheeded warnings, missed opportunities and dismantled resources that was never going to end well.

COVID-19 vaccine inequity allowed Omicron to emerge

Dawn ME Bowdish, McMaster University; Chandrima Chakraborty, McMaster University

In places with low vaccination rates, COVID-19 has the chance to linger, and variants develop and travel. Without global vaccine equity, this entirely predictable pattern will repeat itself.

Ivermectin — whether formulated for humans or horses — is not a treatment for COVID-19

Julian Daniel Sunday Willett, McGill University

Ivermectin is the most recent example of a medication touted as a miracle drug for COVID-19 without solid medical evidence supporting its use.

The fault in our stars: Aaron Rodgers reminds us why celebrity shouldn’t trump science

Eric Cadesky, University of British Columbia

NFL star Aaron Rodgers has amplified dangerous and disproven myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s why his statements are not only untrue, but also harmful because they spread misinformation.

Dog bites happen every day but urban pet policies can help prevent them

Melanie J Rock, University of Calgary; Morgan Mouton, Université Gustave Eiffel

Dogs bite people daily, especially young children. There is concern that disadvantaged families may suffer most. Dog-bite facts remain scarce because prevention has yet to become a policy priority.

Premature babies are prone to impaired brain development, but nutrients may reduce the risk

Olupathage Chandani Dinesh, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Premature infants are at risk of impaired brain development. Adding creatine to the intravenous solution used to feed them may lower that risk.

How tiny gold particles injected into tumours could improve radiation treatment for cancer

Devika Basnagge Chithrani, University of Victoria

Higher doses of radiotherapy for cancer treatment destroy more healthy tissue as well as more tumour cells. Gold nanoparticles sensitize tumours to radiation, making treatment more effective.

Taking the circus to school: How kids benefit from learning trapeze, juggling and unicycle in gym class

Marion Cossin, Université de Montréal

Teaching circus arts — from juggling to trapeze — in physical education classes increased children’s physical literacy, resilience and participation, ​with greater gender equity.