Gouveia e Melo has been credited with turning it around. With a background working on complicated logistical challenges in the military, he was named in February to lead the national vaccination task force.
Standing 6 feet, 3 inches, the admiral made it a point to wear only his combat uniform in his many public and television appearances as he sought to essentially draft the nation into one collective pandemic-fighting force.
“The first thing is to make this thing a war,” Gouveia e Melo said in an interview, recalling how he approached the job. “I use not only the language of war, but military language.”
While politicians around the world have invoked a similar martial rhetoric, he said it was critical to his success that he was widely seen as detached from politics.
He quickly assembled a team of some three dozen people, led by elite military personnel — including mathematicians, doctors, analysts and strategic experts from Portugal’s army, air force and navy.
Asked what other countries can do to bolster their own vaccination efforts, he did not hesitate to offer his best advice.
“They need to find people who are not politicians,” he said.
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