Four of Australia’s best-known medical experts who became faces in the fight against Covid-19 have been honored for their roles in containing the disease.
Among them is an academic who regularly called for harsher restrictions, raised concerns about ‘poor handling’ of the pandemic by government and was a critic of one of each fellow award recipients.
The four are among 992 Australians to be recognized in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List, including 92 being acknowledged for their contribution in support of the nation’s response to Covid
Straight-shooting New South Wales chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for her role in the response to Covid-19. The usually unflappable Dr Chant became well-known for fronting daily Covid press conferences
Dr Brendan Murphy, who was the nation’s chief medical officer at the start of the pandemic, has been appointed a Companion of the Officer of the Order of Australia (AC).
He is joined by Dr Jeannette Young, formerly Queensland’s chief health officer and now the state’s governor, in receiving the highest award in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List.
Straight-talking New South Wales chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), one rung below the AC.
Epidemiologist and Covid media commentator Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW has also been appointed an AO.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton and former federal deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth did not make the awards list.
All four recipients became familiar faces during the pandemic, with Dr Chant, Dr Young and Dr Murphy fronting daily press conferences and Professor McLaws becoming something of a celebrity epidemiologist.
Epidemiologist and Covid media commentator Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW has also been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. She was portrayed as alarmist when she was critical of some Covid measures
Of her newfound fame, she once told the ABC: ‘I had people on my street who’ve known me for 20 years say, “I saw you on the TV – so that’s actually what you do?”’
While the usually unflappable Dr Chant and the grandfatherly Dr Murphy were not widely subjected to attack for their decision-making during the worst of the crisis, others were less fortunate.
Dr Young drew flak from the federal government and commentators in June last year when she advised no one under 40 to get the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the tiny risk of a clotting side-effect.
In August she allowed a plane carrying more than 100 NRL wives, girlfriends, children an officials to fly into Brisbane from Covid-ravaged Sydney while the state was shut to interstate visitors.
The outspoken Professor McLaws was portrayed as alarmist when she was critical of some of the federal and NSW an’ Covid prevention and control response measures.
Dr Jeannette Young, formerly Queensland’s chief health officer and now the state’s governor, in receiving the highest award in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List. Dr Young drew flak when she advised no one under 40 to get the AstraZeneca vaccine due to a tiny risk of blood clotting
She challenged advice given by Dr Chant about the timing and severity and lockdowns – wanting them faster and longer – and in August called for mandatory outdoor mask-wearing rules.
Professor McLaw’s citation reads: ‘For distinguished service to medical research, particularly to epidemiology and infection prevention, to tertiary education, and to health administration.’
She serves a number of roles within the World Health Organization, is an advisor to Commonwealth bodies and is the author of more than 180 publications.
Professor McLaw, who has made regular media appearances to discuss Covid, including on Today and The Project, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January.
Sunday Project host Lisa Wilkinson became tearful as she praised the academic and thanked her for being ‘so generous with her knowledge’ as she shared Professor McLaw’s plight with viewers.
Dr Brendan Murphy, who was the nation’s chief medical officer at the start of the pandemic, has been appointed a Companion of the Officer of the Order of Australia. He is now secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health
‘This evening we wanted to take a moment to send our love to a very dear friend of the show, epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws,’ Wilkinson said.
‘Mary-Louise, I think it’s fair to say that all of us here at The Project were heartbroken to hear the news.
‘In these troubled times, your calm, considered information and advice has been invaluable to millions of Australians across the country.
‘We want to thank you so much for being so generous with your knowledge, time and we wish you and your beautiful family all the strength in the world at this difficult time.’
‘Just make sure you put that wonderful husband of yours to good work.’
At the time of her diagnosis Professor McLaws revealed she would be taking sick leave from her jobs with the WHO and University of NSW.
‘Thank you media for helping me spread knowledge. Now it is time with my family. Best wishes to you all,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Earlier this year Professor McLaws said the refusal to widely distribute free rapid antigen tests across Australia showed the government’s ‘outbreak management has failed.’
Last June Professor McLaws criticised Dr Chant and then NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s decision not to immediately send Sydney into lockdown as the Delta variant of Covid was spreading.
In August she called for an extension of lockdowns until the number of new daily cases not in full isolation reached zero, and for mandatory outdoor mask use.
Professor McLaws also argued that more should have been done to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant at Christmas, saying too much focus was placed on vaccine rates and not social distancing measures.
Dr Murphy’s award is for ’eminent service to medical administration and community health, particularly as Chief Medical Officer, and to nephrology, to research and innovation, and to professional organisations.’
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton (left) and former federal deputy medical officer Nick Coatsworth (right) did not make the awards list
His appointment as secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health was until July 2020 as he dealt with the early days of Covid-19.
Dr Young was recognized for ’eminent service to public health administration, to medicine and medical research, to the tertiary education sector, and as the 27th Governor appointed in Queensland.’
She served as Queensland’s chief health officer from 2005 until 2021 when she took up her vice-regal position.
Dr Chant’s honor acknowledges her ‘distinguished service to the people of New South Wales through public health administration and governance, and to medicine.’
She has been the state’s chief medical officer and deputy secretary of Population and Health since 2008 and a member of the Covid-19 Crisis Committee of Cabinet since 2020.
Queensland Governor says she is ‘extremely honored’ by award
Dr Jeannette Young has issued the following statement following her appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia:
‘I am extremely honored to be appointed Companion of the Order of Australia and humbled to be in the company of other Honors recipients, whose diversity of achievements and contributions to this country are both exceptional and inspiring.
‘This award is particularly special to me as it recognises the breadth of my achievements across my career, from public service, to medicine and medical research, to the tertiary education sector, and now, as the 27th Governor of Queensland.
‘Not only is it a great moment of personal pride, this recognition also serves as a tribute to the many highly skilled and dedicated professionals I worked with along the way. From my time as a Doctor and medical administrator at Westmead and Rockhampton hospitals, and through my 16 years as Chief Health Officer – I was always part of a team, listening, gathering advice, and making decisions for the common good.
‘I am eternally grateful to my family and to the many who supported me through my early days in Rockhampton as a single mother – without their support, I would not be where I am today.
‘While I’m perhaps most widely recognized for my role in helping lead Queensland through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m also extremely proud of my achievements in increasing the State’s childhood immunization rates, halving the rate of adult smokers in Queensland, establishing a world-class aeromedical retrieval service and developing a new medical school in Central Queensland.
‘Having recently had the privilege of hosting my first Investiture Ceremonies as the 27th Governor of Queensland, I was awestruck by the achievements of everyday Australians who are contributing to our community in such diverse and meaningful ways, and ultimately lives for the better.
‘However; I am equally cognisant there are many worthy individuals out there enriching our society who give quietly, without thought of recognition, and it is so important we acknowledge these unsung heroes.
‘So, right across our institutions, workplaces, charitable organizations and sporting bodies, and deep into the places people call home, if there is someone you believe is worthy of recognition through the Order of Australia, please nominate them. It gives the rest of us the opportunity to be inspired by their outstanding achievements and leadership.’