Professor Garry Jennings, AO, Cardiologist - ONLINE ONLY


From: Wednesday July 15, 2020, 1:00 pm

To: Wednesday July 15, 2020, 2:00 pm

Which swan is that?  COVID 19 and the heart


Garry Jennings


Much as unprecedented has become a favourite word this was not a ‘Black Swan’ event.  It was utterly predictable and all that was needed was a virus that is quite infectious (more than influenza but less than measles), not always lethal and an unprepared global community with no immunity.   It is one virus but at least three diseases.  COVID-19 does not affect everyone in the same way.  In most people it is a mild illness, but a few develop pneumonitis and even fewer a severe life-threatening illness affecting the whole body.  At present there is no way of predicting whether an infected person will progress to major organ damage, have mild cold-like symptoms or none at all.  What we do know is that those with severe illness are more likely to be over 70 years old, have an underlying chronic condition such as lung or heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension or taking treatment directed at the immune system.  It is also seen more often in people who are socio-economically disadvantaged or vulnerable.


What advice can we give to those who are in one or other of these vulnerable groups?

  • Social distancing and hygiene are important for everyone, not only to protect yourself but also to protect others.
  • Lockdown will be required for longer in certain vulnerable groups. Look after your physical and mental health in the meantime.  Find new ways to stay active.
  • Do not change your usual treatments without consulting your Doctor. Most health professionals are using telemedicine to support their practices when face to face consultations are not needed.  Pharmacies will also deliver medicines. 
  • Do not hesitate to call 000 if you think there is a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke. There is evidence here and overseas that people are hesitant to do so in the midst of the pandemic either because they are frightened of catching the virus or they think the hospitals are overloaded.  When this happens the indirect health consequences of COVID-19 in the community can match the direct effects.
  • At present there are no proven treatments for COVID-19 but slightly promising results in some specific patient groups. Although many options have been suggested they should only be taken in the context of a clinical trial, so we quickly find out what works and what does not.


COVID-19 is changing the demography in places where it is rampant, affecting all ages but particularly older and vulnerable members of the community.  The challenge now is to learn as much as possible from the experience- what went right, what went wrong, what should we keep, what should we not?  There are more shocks to come that will stress civil society in future; a different virus, natural disasters, war or pestilence.  We have done well this time, but we need to be much better prepared for the next. 





Garry Jennings was born in Melbourne but lived important formative years in Tasmania where his family is prominent in golf, racing and breeding and business.  After completing school in Melbourne and graduating in Medicine 50 years ago he counts his greatest attributes as his family, wife Janis, 3 boys, 2 of whom live in London with their families and a short attention span that has allowed him to use his medical degree to engage in a wide range of activities from day to day clinical practise, research, education and mentoring, management and public engagement in health issues.

Though living in Melbourne most of the week is now spent in Sydney as Director of Sydney Health Partners.  Part of this role has been to support the NSW Government in coordinating COVID-19 therapeutic trials as well as facilitating translational research across the University of Sydney, its affiliated health services and research institutes.  He is Chief Medical Advisor for the Heart Foundation providing advice to the Board on clinical matters and has been the face of the Heart Foundation during a public campaign to maintain heart health during the COVID-19 pandemic  He still sees some patients and does research, has a number of Board roles, including Trustee of the Baker Foundation and an international hypertension journal editorial position.   He was a member of the Club until the Sydney role took him away in 2017 but looks forward to returning to Melbourne full time soon.

Previously he was Director and CEO of the Baker Institute for 14 years, Director of Cardiology at The Alfred for six years and another year as National CEO of the Heart Foundation.  His commercial activities while at the Baker included Founder and Chair of Nucleus Network Pty Ltd, the early phase clinical trials company now doing the first COVID vaccine trials. His own research includes almost 600 publications on the prevention and treatment of heart disease. 

His contributions to medicine and research was recognised by the Order of Australia in 2005 (AM) and again in 2013 (AO). 


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