We’ve demonstrated we’re capable of handling this disease and the vaccine will be a life-saver once it’s fully rolled out later this year.
Of course, two jabs in the arm won’t end the pandemic.
As long as COVID-19 is in circulation somewhere in the world – whatever the variant – we need to be wary.
But cautious optimism has replaced the dread I felt 12 months ago.
On January 29, 2020, I was informed that Queensland had its first case, a 44-year-old man who had travelled from Wuhan in central China, the epicentre of this mysterious disease.
A pandemic isn’t a slow burn. It’s more like a wildfire.
The international medical community became aware of a new virus emerging from China in the final days of 2019.
On January 10, 2020, I warned the state’s GPs and other primary healthcare providers of the novel coronavirus threat.
On January 22, I declared a public health event of statewide significance. Three days after that I stood up the State Health Emergency Coordination Centre in response to Australia’s first confirmed case.
All that happened in four weeks.
Few aspects of society are unaffected by this disease, but our state has weathered this pandemic exceptionally well compared with other jurisdictions.
We’ve been tested on several occasions – most recently by the hotel quarantine case that locked down greater Brisbane for three days and before that the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre and Logan cluster.
And each time we’ve met that challenge, containing cases so as to avoid expanded lockdowns.
Prior to the hotel quarantine worker’s case, we went 114 days without recording a community-transmitted case, one of the most important metrics when gauging the effectiveness of a pandemic response.
Why have we done so well? Some things did work in our favour.
The pandemic peaked outside Queensland’s peak tourism season. Our population density is relatively low.
It’s easier to seal the borders of a water-locked continent such as Australia than it is a country that borders others.
However, two significant factors have kept COVID-19 out of the state.
Swift, decisive action.
And, as I have said all along, responsible Queenslanders. You.
When you’re confronted with an unknown, highly contagious, life-threatening disease, you don’t do things in half-measures. You go early and you go hard.
It’s easier to wind back cautious measures than it is to contain an outbreak that’s already spiralled out of control.
The State Health Emergency Coordination Centre, many of you may know, is activated to lead the health response to emergencies such as cyclones, floods, bushfires and heatwaves. This is the longest period it has been activated.
It’s the engine room that powers our response, 24/7. The people who staff this centre range from clinicians and scientists to emergency officials and operations managers.
At any given time of the day, I have ready access to a specialist in infectious diseases, a contact tracer, a policy expert, a police officer or a paramedic.
They provide the data, the intel, the analyses and the advice I need to make decisions, all with the utmost urgency.
Each and every one of them has my full confidence, trust and gratitude.
I’m the one you see at media conferences but these are the people working tirelessly behind the scenes to protect your health, content to avoid the glare, never seeking the praise they deserve.
And speaking of people who deserve praise, Queenslanders have been tremendous throughout this ordeal.
We’ve all seen the images from overseas of people throwing tantrums in a supermarket because they were asked to wear a mask, or mobs marching against lockdowns, sometimes violently.
But when you were asked to comply with the three-day lockdown in greater Brisbane, you did it to the letter.
When you were asked to wear masks in public, including your vehicles, you did so without a fuss.
When we asked you to get tested, you lined up to do so, some of you for hours.
Now, we look to another critical milestone on our road to recovery.
Our first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations is imminent.
I want Queenslanders to be ready to run a marathon, not a sprint.
Full vaccination of all members of our community might take until the end of 2021 to complete.
I am asking the Queensland community to be patient. But most of all I am asking you to trust us.
Five million of you rallied in 2020 when we asked you to stay home, keep your distance and wear your masks. It saved lives.
Now is not the time to fall at one of our final and most significant hurdles.
Not only will this vaccine allow us to slowly return to life before the pandemic, it could also be the difference between a wife burying her husband or a child saying goodbye to her mother.
I want Queenslanders to visit their grandparents in nursing homes, not funeral homes.
These vaccines are our best chance of making that happen. But it only works if every Queenslander who can be vaccinated is vaccinated.
We are no stranger to vaccine science – it has changed the world before.
Think back to polio and the generations of children sentenced to an iron lung.
Remember the devastation of smallpox, and the threat of tetanus.
This is not our reality any more and it is thanks to vaccines, thanks to science.
Vaccines have gifted us generations of children who would have otherwise never seen adolescence.
Vaccines have allowed us to live, and they have allowed us to thrive.
A life unimpeded by preventable disease and suffering is a gift, and it is one you all deserve.
There will be those who are concerned that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be safe. It will be.
There will be those who tell you that a COVID-19 vaccine will not have been properly tested. It has been.
I ask you all to remember, science is not up for debate.
The largest deciding factor in the vaccine’s success in Queensland is the very same reason we have done so well so far. It is you.
We really, truly, have all been in this together. We must get through this together as well.
If there’s a single expression that simultaneously conveys gratitude, sympathy and empathy, I’d like to know it, because I would have used it on a daily basis these past 12 months.
I’m privileged to lead the team I have to serve Queenslanders like yourselves.
Dr Jeannette Young is Queensland’s Chief Health Officer.