At a time when the nation is looking to heal from over two years of upheaval and uncertainty, divisive comments made by the Queensland Chief Health Officer (CHO) have further exacerbated community angst. According to Gerrard, “the anti-vax group is taking up a disproportionate amount of oxygen”.
CHO Gerrard’s derisive comments about the so-called ‘anti-vax’ movement has continued to fuel division in Queensland. His comments are at odds with Premier Palaszczuk on 5 April 2022 who stated that “now is the time for families to reunite”. Indeed, his comments were more in line with what Deb Frecklington MP described as the Government’s ‘divide and conquer’ approach.
Despite his derogative comments, the CHO said it was time to end exclusionary policies around access to hospitality and entertainment venues. His reasoning was that the mandated exclusion of Queenslanders “have put a lot of stress and demand on a lot of the proprietors of [pubs, clubs, cafes] …and I think to do that for the sake of a very small percentage of anti-vaxers…the public health benefit is too marginal”. Of course, these easing of restrictions has little to do with the harm that segregationist policies have had on our community or the fact that vaccination status does not stop the spread.
According to Channel 7 News, Covid ‘segregation is coming to an end with the unvaccinated been locked out and left out for months’. Health Minister Yvette D’Ath was excited about dropping mandates, not because it would be the first step to bringing together our divided state, but because “it would make a big difference to business.”
The CHO’s comments have seen immediate community backlash. Many on social media called out the CHO’s rhetoric. As one person posted ‘He’s shown his true colours. In the same way that many of our supposed friends/acquaintances have also shown their true colours over the past two years’. This comment sums up the divide that has engulfed our State.
Some on social media lamented that the easing of restrictions was ‘too late for many who have lost loved ones due to lockdowns, restrictions’ while others were furious that the CHO was allowed to ‘get away with it LIVE on air’. Many comments were concerned that a public official tasked with representing the state of health in Queensland was allowed to make such derisive comments that must surely go against the public service code of conduct.
The CHO’s comments also failed to acknowledge and made a mockery of Queensland’s Human Rights Act 2019 (HR Act). The HR Act clearly states that every person has the right to life and that a person must not be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation or treatment without the person’s full, free and informed consent. His comments suggest that people who have refused to be vaccinated, or those that support the right to choose are somehow unworthy of living in Queensland.
His comment also fails to consider the many reasons people choose not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For example, many in the anti-mandate protestors support traditional vaccines whilst at the same time support an individual’s right to choose. It is important to note that anti-mandate protestors are just like you and me. They are hard-working families, people who have served their country and communities, they are emergency service workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and pilots.
For some people, getting a COVID-19 vaccination puts them at heightened risk of harm due to complications from the vaccine – with professional, trusted medical doctors supporting these choices. For others that support the anti-mandate and freedom convoy movements, complications from vaccines, including significant adverse reactions have left them wary of putting themselves at further risk.
As rightly pointed out in a Facebook post commenting on Gerrard’s point of view, “[f]or a chief health officer this man certainly lacks the care and compassion that one would expect from his profession. I thought that to be in his position would require a high level of intelligence, yet all I hear is the denigration and judgement of Australian citizens that he doesn’t even know.” Stating what many others have believed on social media for many months, the post continued by saying the CHO’s “vitriolic attack makes me suspect that these unfair mandates were nothing more than a punishment for those who refused to comply”. It was clear from many other social media posts that the CHO’s comments have further damaged trust in the CHO position with people questioning whether John Gerrard is fit to continue in the role. As one person tweeted, ‘making a statement like that shows that he not only lacks any standard of professionalism but also lacks self-discipline’.
Senator Gerard Rennick, a last beacon of hope for many suffering from vaccine exclusion policies was quick to respond. Senator Rennick stated that the “comments made by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer John Gerrard are a disgrace”. Senator Rennick, a strong advocate for those who have suffered significant, long-term harm from COVID-19 vaccinations, vaccine mandates and exclusionary policies stated the CHO’s comments “just goes to show how out of touch and insensitive these health bureaucrats are!”
For anyone who follows Senator Rennick’s social media accounts, you would have seen the growing number of people suffering from vaccine injury. Accounts of children as young as six as well as adults being turned away from hospitals at the mention of vaccine injury are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, these are not rare accounts as people are reaching out more and more to share their experiences.
Stephen Andrew, MP for Mirani believes the about face on exclusionary policies is in response to extensive protests in Brisbane last week. Anti-mandate protestors (some of whom are fully vaccinated) continued to call for an end to discriminatory policies that have seen many professionals – including health and emergency service workers forced out of work. This is at a time when hospitals are in crisis due to understaffing and ambulance ramping is rife. The protestors drowned out MPs at the closing of the Bill debate. These were not anti-vaxers that were protesting, these were not people living in another universe. As Stephen Andrew noted, these anti-mandate protests were comprised of “ordinary Queenslanders” and “a true movement of ‘the People against their government and their representatives in Parliament.”