‘A marvel of science’: This doctor gave the COVID shot to the PM – and then to a GP

Doug Hendrie

23/02/2021 4:52:05 PM

What does it feel like to give someone a coronavirus vaccine? Dr Jesse Li can tell you.

Doctor vaccinating Australian PM against COVID
Dr Jesse Li giving Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. (Image: AAP)

On Sunday, as Dr Jesse Li held a precious needle carrying the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, he paused for a moment to take stock. 
In his hand was what he calls a ‘marvel of science’ – a vaccine produced in record time and highly effective against the pandemic sweeping the world.
In front of him was Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with his sleeve rolled up. The cameras were rolling. Dozens of reporters had crowded in to Sydney’s Castle Hill Medical Centre to capture the moment.
Nurse practitioner Katina Zetlein had just administered the first ever shot to 84-year-old Jane Malysiak. Now it was Dr Li’s turn. The nation was watching.
He took a breath. His nerves dissipated, and training kicked in. The emergency doctor gave the shot.  
‘I was a little nervous. But I had a little mind hack, thinking he is just another patient. I forgot the cameras were rolling and got it done,’ Dr Li told newsGP.
It was a simple thing to do. But it carried huge weight.
‘It was such a happy moment for me,’ Dr Li said.
‘I knew it was just one small jab. But it is symbolic of so much more. It’s the beginning of the end of the pandemic. The end of so much hardship for vulnerable Australians who contracted it.
‘The PM was happy to go on TV and get it live, to inspire confidence for all Australians in getting these vaccines and protecting our community.
‘To be able to deliver that jab on national television is the honour of my life.’
Next, Dr Li vaccinated Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, followed by the first GP to receive the shot, co-owner of the practice Dr Nigel Grebert, who was eligible because the medical centre also runs a respiratory clinic.
Practice nurse Trish Enriquez was also vaccinated, as well as a number of aged care residents, workers and disability support workers, ensuring no doses were wasted.  
A day later, at 8.51am, Dr Li received his own first dose. He remembers the exact time, because it meant that for the first time in a year, he could start to breathe easier. He knew that now his family and friends would be able to relax – even just a little. 
‘I’ve got a bit of a sore arm, but otherwise I’m fine,’ he said.
‘I’ve always felt safe working in Australia, but this is just that final layer of protection. It will inspire confidence in my friends and family, as people know I’m frontline.’
For GP and Castle Hill Medical Centre co-owner Dr Patrick Mosse, hosting the first vaccinations came as an ‘extraordinary privilege for us all’. 
‘It was good that the Prime Minister was showing confidence in the vaccine,’ he told newsGP.
‘And from a GP perspective, it was a good endorsement by the Federal Government showing that general practice is important to the overall vaccine program.’ 
Seeing the vaccinations take place gave Dr Mosse a sense of real optimism. The GP still has many friends and family in the hard hit United Kingdom, where he trained. His brother contracted COVID-19 two months ago, and is yet to regain his sense of smell and taste despite being fit and well.
‘I’m acutely aware of the significant impact COVID has had on people’s lives and health. It makes it absolutely paramount that we tackle this in the way we are,’ he said.
‘I am optimistic about Australia. Through a combination of good management and good luck, we’ve found ourselves in the position where we don’t have community spread.
‘That puts us in a very good position to be able to get on top of the virus and manage the illness through vaccination.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt anticipates 60,000 vaccinations will be given this week to hotel quarantine workers, frontline workers and aged care residents and staff. The goal is to protect the most vulnerable – and to shut the door to any future viral escapes from hotel quarantine.
‘This was my duty’
The vaccine rollout will come not a moment too soon for Dr Li. When the coronavirus causing COVID-19 first began spreading – and killing – Dr Li knew it was his time to step forward. He was young, without comorbidities, and well trained.
And so, he put his hand up for everything. For 10 weeks, he was the only doctor in Sydney’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge, the first aged care home stalked by COVID-19, as the regular doctors had to go into isolation.
At one stage, he had the sad duty of signing death certificates daily. Six residents would die.

Dr Jesse Li vaccinating practice nurse Trish Enriquez against COVID-19. (Image: Castle Hill Medical Centre)

After the outbreak was contained, Dr Li moved to hotel quarantine, where he is now the medical lead at Healthcare Australia.
The past 12 months have, for Dr Li, been a constant battle against an unknown new foe. He describes himself as obsessive about his personal protective equipment (PPE). There could be no gap for the virus to exploit. He had to stay safe so that he could help others.
‘In the early days it was tough. I couldn’t see my friends and family [and] I’ve been swabbed so many times I’ve lost count,’ he said.
‘From March to May last year, and then with the second wave in Victoria – that was very sad and very tough. But in the past three months, it’s better – we have very few cases.
‘This is my duty. I’m young. There is a pandemic raging and killing our people. It was my time to do something. If I didn’t, I’d be wasting my expertise.
‘When I saw the ad to work at Dorothy Henderson, I was like – “yes, that’s me. Someone has to review these patients”.
‘I went in. It was sad and awful but I stayed the course and there was an end date. We got them out of it. Now I’m in hotel quarantine and I will see that project through.’  
Though the vaccines offer us a chance at a new normal – especially with promising early data suggesting vaccines slash transmission – Dr Li wants people to know that it will always be with us.
‘We are well past containment. Now it’s about adjusting to having this virus with us, adjusting our way of life to deal with that, with social distancing and hand hygiene,’ he said.
‘Textbooks will need to be rewritten because of this pandemic. It’s redefined how we think about infectious disease, containment and how we practice medicine. We’ve been thrown into this, whether we like it or not.’ 
Log in below to join the conversation.

coronavirus COVID-19 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination vaccine

newsGP weekly poll Would you be willing to provide a firearms health assessment for your patient?

newsGP weekly poll Would you be willing to provide a firearms health assessment for your patient?



Login to comment

Dr Natalia Bakhilova   24/02/2021 6:25:29 AM

is it me developing eyesight problem or Doctor on photo with PM has insulin syringe and needle still covered?
Did he give him vaccine or it was just photo prop for advertising?

Dr Patrick Tylden Rutherford Mosse   24/02/2021 8:05:41 AM

It’s your eyesight, Natalia.
It was an orange needle 25G attached to a syringe (not an insulin needle). The photos above were of the actual vaccination. No props, no retakes.

Dr Alice Park   24/02/2021 1:52:25 PM

Good to see the reply.

Dr Dilip Singh Chauhan   24/02/2021 4:21:20 PM

It’s a good practice to get the politicians first but where is Albo who wanted to be the first to be vaccinated when appeared on TV to blame the PM?