Portugal, one of the countries in the world with the highest rate of vaccination against covid-19, owes much of its success to the rigor and cold blood of the naval officer who coordinates the mission.
Applauded when visiting a vaccination center in the city of Seixal, south of Lisbon, Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo has become a popular figure in recent months.
“He does an excellent job. Thanks to him, Portugal has become a good student,” said Roseane Santos, who accompanied her teenage son in the application of the second dose of the vaccine, to the AFP.
“I’m just the tip of the iceberg,” says the 60-year-old soldier modestly.
Portugal, with 80% of its population of nearly 10 million people fully vaccinated, stands side by side with Malta as the world leader in immunization against covid-19.
“We, the Portuguese, have a sense of community when we are attacked. We had been attacked by a virus that destroyed our lives and we reacted in the best way: united to defeat this pandemic together,” the former Navy spokesman told AFP .
Controversies and Offenses
The game, however, was not won when the military was appointed, in February, as coordinator of the team responsible for the vaccination campaign.
His predecessor was forced to resign because of a controversy over the lists of people with vaccination priority, to the detriment of professionals on the front lines of combating the disease.
Reassured by the rigor of a military man, the Portuguese followed the moment when Vice Admiral Gouveia e Melo stoically bore the insults leveled against him, in front of the television cameras, by anti-vaccine activists.
“You are entitled to your opinion, but not to push or put pressure on people,” he replied to an activist who called him a “murderer” at the entrance to a vaccination center.
After the mid-August incident, when teenagers over 12 began to be vaccinated, the officer was placed under police protection.
And when the press began to speculate on a future in politics, he dismissed the idea and said he wanted to return to “anonymity” as soon as possible.
“Win the war”
“I won’t take off my work uniform until we’ve won the war,” he promised.
Portugal wants to reach 85% of the population fully vaccinated by the end of September and reduce health restrictions again.
The country, one of the first affected by the contagious Delta variant, controlled the latest wave of the pandemic by accelerating the vaccination campaign with the application of up to 100,000 doses a day.
With the number of new infections dropping after several weeks, the use of an open air mask was no longer mandatory on Monday.
Gouveia de Melo “was able to take quick decisions to speed up the pace when possible,” says economist Pedro Pita Barros, a health specialist.
But the success is also due to the confidence of the Portuguese in the public health service, which had already transformed the country, before the pandemic, into one of the most vaccinated in the world, highlights the specialist from the New School of Business and Economics.
Unlike other countries, Portugal does not contemplate offering a third dose to people with more fragile health.