Henrique Gouveia e Melo became a household name in Portugal - a symbol of 'how to get things done'

“Bring back the admiral”, exhorts GP as Portugal’s vaccination process deteriorates 

For days now national media has been alluding to ‘total confusion’ returning to Portugal’s vaccination process.

Just weeks since the task-force led by vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo was ‘disbanded’ (after achieving world-beating levels of inoculation), everything seems to have deteriorated.

There is mixed messaging over who should be entitled to 3rd booster doses; mixed messaging over how to go about being vaccinated (initially the DGS said vaccines would be administered at the same time as flu jabs, “in different arms”; then there was a shortage of flu vaccines…and then the over-70s were told to go online to book their Covid shots, many not even having access to a computer).

The Ordem dos Médicos has expressed concern over what it sees as a “reduction in pace of the vaccination process”; Graça Freitas has refuted the criticism – and leader writers have observed “there really doesn’t seem to be a plan for the 3rd dose”.

“There are some general lines which no-one yet understands – and the worst is the answer to the question “isn’t the vaccination lacking a face the Portuguese have become used to?” writes Carlos Rodrigues in Correio da Manhã.

Graça Freitas’ response has been that people “will have to get used to my face”, which Mr Rodrigues has said ‘seems like the threat’ of “a return of the old paradigms” which caused the vice-admiral to be appointed in the first place.

Talking to Rádio Rensascença today, GP Rui Nogueira is adamant: the rocky start of this new phase shows the country needs Gouveia e Melo back at the helm.

“We need to call him back. He is already sorely missed…” he told the station.

In the doctor’s opinion, the messaging as to why the 3rd booster shot is necessary has been woolly in the extreme.

Put simply, vaccines lose their effect after 5-6 months. Since most of the country had started the process by April/ May, November is the month a large number of people will need their boosters, he stressed.

The task force, before it was disbanded, suggested 2.5 million citizens (the over-65s plus 200,000 healthcare personnel) should receive 3rd boosters before Christmas.

Graça Freitas has said by her calculations only 1.5 million need to be protected by that date. The rest can receive their jabs “in January and February” – which many would say is ‘too late’ into the coldest months, leaving people potentially vulnerable.

Could the change have something to do with the closure of certain vaccination centres? Dr Nogueira seems to think so, telling Rádio Renascença that the decision was “precipitous”.

Graça Freitas, nonetheless, has insisted that the slow start of the booster/ flu jab process should start picking up rhythm from today.

Up till Sunday, 350,000 people had received their 3rd Covid booster dose and 811,000 had been vaccinated against flu.

But as all this ‘plays out’ in the nation’s press – and Portugal’s transmission and incidence levels inch upwards (click here) – Diário de Notícias has reported on the ‘impasse’ that the country’s political crisis seems to have caused the vice-admiral’s career now that he has returned to the Navy.

There was the brief embarrassing moment when the minister of defence ‘dismissed’ the Chief of Staff of the Navy in order for Gouveia e Melo to take his job (click here). Now that that has been stymied for the time being by President Marcelo, it’s not certain what Gouveia e Melo’s immediate future is.

Sources suggest he has only to wait. Decisions have to come by December 25 as various nominations for new generals, admirals and commodores have to be settled by that date – and they will need to be settled by the Chief of Staff of the Navy – or rather the incoming one (as the current one is all too aware now that he is on borrowed time).

It’s all ‘up in the air’ while Henrique Gouveia e Melo is still a ‘hot item’ for talks, congresses and international press interviews.

Says DN, he has been lauded by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Financial Times, ITV, Europe’s press, even media outlets in India and Japan.

He received a ‘rock star’ welcome recently at Lisbon’s Web Summit, and he can’t enjoy a cup of coffee on a terrace without people reverently approaching and asking for his autograph.

As some who know the former submarine commander have commented, if he doesn’t get the top job at the Navy (which he has always wanted), the vice-admiral could just leave and “embrace other projects, whether or not linked to politics in terms of civic participation”.

But in the meantime, he has made it clear, if the country needs him for the 3rd booster process, he is more than ready to put his camouflage fatigues back on and return to the fray.

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