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Dr Jeannette Young's letter to Queensland

31 October 2021

Dear Queensland,

It has been an absolute honour to be your Chief Health Officer for the past 16 years.

The journey has been challenging, rewarding, at times stressful, but always satisfying.

When you’re the CHO of Queensland, you’re not just doing a job; you’re taking responsibility for the health and wellbeing of a state.

You have more than 5.5 million patients and you care deeply for each and every one of them.

COVID-19 has commanded my attention day and night for almost two years now and I am certainly proud of the way we have weathered this crisis.

But many of my proudest achievements pre-date the pandemic.

I was 43 when I was appointed to this role, fresh from a six-year stint in charge of medical services at Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Back then, 20 per cent of Queensland adults smoked every day.

We’ve since halved that.

That’s thousands of Queenslanders no longer inhaling poisonous chemicals and risking a premature death.

Our child vaccination rate in 2005 was 77 per cent.

We’ve lifted that to just under 95 per cent, and additional vaccines have been added to the schedule so there are tens of thousands more children out there protected against serious diseases like whooping cough, measles and meningococcal disease.

These metrics are very important to me because I know our efforts to reduce smoking and increase childhood immunisation have helped improve lifestyles and prevent deaths.

I’m also proud of my role in establishing a world-class aeromedical retrieval service for all Queenslanders, supported by long-term partnerships with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Lifeflight.

These services were once performed by several different organisations across the state, but creating a dedicated Queensland Health division, which oversees the transport and treatment of over 24,000 patients a year, has streamlined our medivac service and made it safer.

Another highlight is the development of a new medical school in Central Queensland.

One of my priorities has been planning the state’s future health workforce, not just for the public system, but also for the private sector.

This school will be integral in supporting our future generation of medical practitioners, especially rural clinicians.

Incidentally, I was executive director of medical services at Rockhampton Hospital for more than four years, so this school holds a special place in my heart.

I’m sure other accomplishments will come to mind when I get the chance to look back on my career one day.

For now, COVID-19 remains the focus.

As I write this, more than 61 per cent of Queenslanders aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated and more than 75 per cent have received their first dose.

These two shots are as close as we’ll get to a silver bullet to this virus.

Most, if not all, of us will get infected at some point.

So I urge you – one last time as Chief Health Officer – to get vaccinated if you have not already done so.

If you plan not to, please reconsider.

At the very least, I encourage you to speak with a medical professional, someone qualified to provide advice.

Recently, I aired my wish to see at least 95 per cent of Queenslanders fully vaccinated.

Granted, it’s a lofty goal, but if we can achieve that rate for childhood diseases, surely we can strive to do the same for a deadly virus that’s fuelling a global pandemic.

I’m a doctor first and foremost.

My priority is to protect people’s health. Your health.

Seven Queenslanders have died as a result of COVID-19.

No matter how well this compares with other jurisdictions, I will always remember them and I’ll often pause to think of their families.

But I’ll also be thankful this virus did not claim more lives.

It very well could have, but for Queensland’s strong response.

We have been successful in managing this pandemic because of you.

I believe our response as a health authority has been effective, but even the best prevention measures are futile if they’re ignored.

However, when we locked down, you complied.

When I asked you to wear face masks, you did, even though they can be uncomfortable.

When cases were detected, you lined up in force to get tested.

Your caring nature and resolute spirit have ensured we are one of the safest jurisdictions in the world.

I’ve been privileged to be in a profession I love for the past 35 years but I am excited about the next chapter of my career.

I ask that you show all health workers the same respect you have shown me.

Whether they are on the frontline in hospitals, vaccination centres and fever clinics, or in the back rooms planning vaccination hubs, tracing contacts, testing samples or supporting clinicians, they deserve our thanks.

This pandemic has highlighted just how valuable these people are.

Thank you and please stay safe and healthy.

Dr Jeannette Young

Last updated: 31 October 2021