One hundred Queenslanders will receive a momentous text message today, telling them they will be the first in the state to get the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine.

In a mammoth health milestone, the exciting SMS marks the start of the much-anticipated vaccination program rollout.

Frontline medics, hotel quarantine staff and border workers are among the first 100 in line for the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow at Gold Coast University Hospital.

The Coast hub is the practice site for this, the largest single vaccination program in history, and it will run under the supervision of Dr John Gerrard, head of infectious diseases at the hospital.

The doctor will oversee the first few shots and then will receive the critical vaccine himself along with his team.

Police inspector Owen Hortz is one of the first to be vaccinated. Picture: Peter Wallis
Police inspector Owen Hortz is one of the first to be vaccinated. Picture: Peter Wallis

As the police officer in charge of the Gold Coast's hotel quarantine program, Inspector Owen Hortz said he was looking forward to receiving the jab tomorrow morning.

"I think it's a really good thing," he said.

"I understand there's a bit of concern or anxiety from some people out in the community, but there have already been 20 million doses administered overseas so that's a pretty fair sample size to see if there were going to be any problems.

"I'm quite happy to go first to show people that I wouldn't ask anyone to do anything that I wasn't prepared to do myself."

The 59-year-old said he was expecting nothing worse than a bit of a stiff arm and was aiming to be back at work within an hour.

"We've been given some excellent briefings on what to expect and there's very little difference between this and a flu shot," he said.

"It's a historic event and I'm looking forward to doing my part.

"My grandmother lived through the Spanish flu and they didn't have anywhere near the medical capabilities we have now."

Later this week, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison officer Valerie Nancarrow will also join the first group of vaccinators at Cairns Hospital and hopes to serve as a pin-up for her people, with some research showing a reluctance among Indigenous communities about the jab.

Indigenous health liaison officer Valerie Nancarrow is ready for her jab. Picture: Sean Davey.
Indigenous health liaison officer Valerie Nancarrow is ready for her jab. Picture: Sean Davey.

Indigenous communities are also particularly at risk of contracting the virus, while Mrs Nancarrow, a proud Aboriginal woman, also has a chronic heart condition, but she is not shying away from the needle.

"There are definitely some fears there (in the community), but I think I can set an example for my mob that if I can get the vaccine anybody can," she said.

"I was very happy to be asked because both me and my husband are frontline workers and this will protect not only me but also my family.

"My mum is in a nursing home so it's good to know I will be able to visit her safely and my son is in Melbourne where I can visit him as well." 

As of Friday the precious Pfizer vaccine cargo had not yet arrived at the coast hub but a specially designed thermal truck was on route and the fridges at the hospital were set to minus 75C in anticipation. Pfizer must be stored in temperatures colder than those in Antarctica.

"Everything is in place and I know I am excited to receive my text message," Dr Gerrard told The Sunday Mail.

"The first 100 have already given their tick of approval to have the vaccine, but I'm sure they will be thrilled to receive their appointment.

"Tomorrow will be a day to remember.

"My team has been simulating giving the vaccine all week.

"They have gone through all the scenarios like dealing with a grumpy patient who is hard to handle.

"We don't anticipate any problems."

Gold Coast University Hospital infectious-diseases physician Dr John Gerrard. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Gold Coast University Hospital infectious-diseases physician Dr John Gerrard. Picture: Nigel Hallett

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in recent days announced that the rollout of phase 1a would start very slowly.

After the Gold Coast's team shows the way the rollout will continue at the Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, Townsville University Hospital and Cairns Hospital.

Dr Gerrard anticipates that all 100 will be vaccinated on Monday.

"We may even do a few more than 100 but from then on we will moving at a greater pace to deliver the shot as fast and efficiently as possible," Dr Gerrard said.

It will be at least four weeks before people in the 1b category are invited to book an appointment. Queenslanders will be able to book online at GP clinics and pharmacies.

Dr Gerrard said Queenslanders need not worry about the vaccine safety. While the hospital will have a mandatory monitoring room, side-effects are highly unlikely.

"Any problems are very, very rare - one in every 100,000," he said.

The infectious-diseases expert told The Sunday Mail that of the many people that had been contacted to have the shot only one in every 10 said they would not have the vaccine.

"From our area we can see that Queenslanders are very keen to be protected," he said.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has said 27,000 frontline workers in Queensland are likely to be vaccinated over the next month.

Phase 1b of the rollout will include the general public who will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Anyone over 70, other healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55, adults of any age with underlying medical conditions who are at high risk from the virus and the army and police and meat processing workers are included in this phase.

The rollout will continue until the end of October.

The "mission impossible" of delivering a COVID-19 vaccine in record time now turns into a reality for the people of Queensland.

Dr Gerrard has been in the trenches in the fight against the virus since he was the first doctor in the state to treat coronavirus patients.

Then health minister Steven Miles said he was the expert that Queensland was lucky to have. Again this coming week all eyes are on Dr Gerrard and his team.

Originally published as Revealed: First Queenslanders to receive vaccine



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