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Ground Zero doctor hails vaccine as 'beginning of the end' of pandemic

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Dr John Gerrard has been on the frontline of Queensland’s COVID-19 response. Unlike his days spent fighting ebola in Africa, Gerrard will today be protected with a vaccine.

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This morning at the Gold Coast University Hospital, nurse Zoe Park became the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Queensland. Gerrard is on the list of approximately 170 other people due to be given a shot today, as authorities prioritise frontline health and quarantine workers considered most at risk.

The steady rollout of the Pfizer vaccine will likely see 1000 people get their first needle this week, before ramping up to 10,000 people every week, as a separate program is rolled out to aged care and disability services.

The Gold Coast hospital treated the first COVID-19 patients in Queensland – six people from three families visiting from Wuhan, China – and Gerrard led the response.

Gerrard is an infectious disease specialist who helped design the hospital to cope with once-hypothetical pandemics. He was previously commended for his work in Africa treating ebola patients, before vaccines were developed for the deadly disease, and was in the right place at the right time to protect Queensland.

Today, Gerrard reflected on the first COVID-19 cases in Queensland, and how their effective isolation and treatment had avoided a “much greater disaster”.

For someone in his field, a pandemic is something you train and prepare for, and a vaccine is something you hope for.

Gerrard said the arrival of the vaccine signalled “the beginning of the end for this pandemic”.

“I woke up this morning at 3am with goosebumps,” Gerrard said, ahead of getting his needle.

“This is probably the most exciting day of my professional career.”

As Queensland recorded another two cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine, after no cases in more than a week, there remained concern as to whether more infectious strains might breach defences.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had doubts early in the pandemic whether a vaccine would ever arrive but was today also excited to be overseeing the rollout.

“One down, four million minus one to go,” Young said.

“The plan is to vaccinate every single adult Queenslander 18 years and over as quickly as we can.”

Park said she barely felt the needle but would “definitely feel safer going to work now”. Working directly with COVID-19 patients, Park had worried she might be accidentally infected and, as a consequence, put her family at risk.

While she said the pandemic still felt surreal, particularly on a day like today, Park sought to remind people that “it’s a very serious thing”.

“I’ve seen families torn apart from it, it’s really sad what it’s done to the patients affected and families,” Park said.

While the vaccine is not compulsory, those on the frontline who do not join the queue for an injection are expected to be removed from coronavirus duties.

Gold Coast Police Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said police who refused the vaccine were expected to be replaced with vaccinated officers at hotels, border and airport check points.

Wheeler said despite the ongoing COVID-containment role, police would not be ordered to undergo the vaccine. He said police were working through a policy regarding police who refused the jab.

“It’s not compulsory. We are absolutely encouraging all of our staff to take up the offer of a vaccine,” Wheeler said

“In the past we have done redeployments. We had a policy around the wearing of beards, people who weren’t prepared to shave their beards so they could get a good seal with masks, they were redeployed.

“So we’ll work through it. It will be a common sense approach.”

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the more adults who agreed to be vaccinated the better protected all five million Queenslanders could be from the worst of COVID-19.

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