In July, Admiral Gouveia e Melo seized such an opportunity.
Protesters were blocking the entrance to a vaccination center in Lisbon, so he donned his combat uniform and went there with no security detail.
“I went through these crazy people,” he said. “They started to call me ‘murderer, murderer.’”
As the television cameras rolled, the admiral calmly stood his ground.
“I said the murderer is the virus,” Admiral Gouveia e Melo recalled. The true killer, he said, would be people who live like it is the 13th century without any notion of reality.
“I attempted to communicate in a very true and honest way about all doubts and problems,” he said.
But not everybody welcomed his approach.
“We don’t really have a culture of questioning authorities,” said Laura Sanches, a clinical psychologist who has criticized Portugal’s mass vaccination rollout as too militaristic and called for it to exclude younger people.
“And the way he always presented himself in camouflage army suits — as if he was fighting a war — together with the language used by the media and the politicians, has contributed to a feeling of fear that also makes us more prone to obey and not question,” she said.
Still, the public messaging campaign — including an aggressive television and media blitz — made steady progress.