Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo took charge of the vaccine rollout in February, now 84% of population is fully vaccinated, a global high

As Portugal closes in on its goal of fully vaccinating 85% of the population against COVID-19 in nine months, other countries in Europe and beyond want to know how it was accomplished. The Associated Press tells the story:

A lot of the credit is going to Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo. With his team from the three branches of the armed forces, the naval officer took charge of the vaccine rollout in February — perhaps the moment of greatest tension in Portugal over the pandemic.

Now, the county could be just days away from hitting its target. As of Wednesday, 84% of the total population was fully vaccinated, the highest globally, according to Our World in Data.

Along with the rising number of shots, the COVID-19 infection rate and hospitalizations from the virus have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly 18 months. Portugal could end many of its remaining pandemic restrictions in October — a coveted development for many countries still in the grip of the highly infectious delta variant and lagging in their own vaccination rollouts.

Previously unheralded outside the military, Gouveia e Melo is now a household name in Portugal, having made a point of going on television regularly to answer public concerns about the vaccination program.

Easily recognizable even behind a face mask due to his blue eyes, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and 1.93-meter (6-foot-3-inch) height, he’s often greeted in the street by people wanting to thank him.

“People are very nice,” he says. But the 60-year-old officer also is quick to insist he is just “the tip of the iceberg” in the operation and that many others share the credit.

Military involvement in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine is not uncommon elsewhere, but Portugal has given it the leading role.

It turned out to be an inspired choice: Although Gouveia e Melo’s team works hand-in-hand with health authorities, police and town councils, the military’s expertise has proven invaluable.

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