MANILA— The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday said it was considering the recommendation on mandatory COVID-19 boosters before an individual can enter an establishment.
In a public briefing, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said they are also studying the possibility of including booster shots as part of the primary inoculation series.
"We may encourage the need for a booster dose. Baka kailangan ng booster card. In the next 2 to 3 weeks tingnan natin kung ano pa ang puwedeng magawa para makumbinsi ang ating mamamayan magkaroon ng booster doses," said Cabotaje, who is also chairperson of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Operations Center.
"We recognize that boosters are very important. Kasalukuyan tayong nagre-review kung puwede nang i-include ang booster... as part of primary series para makapasok sa mga offices, sa mga work stations," she added.
Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion earlier this month proposed that COVID-19 booster jabs should be made mandatory before people are allowed to enter establishments and in close-contact settings in areas under Alert Level 1.
Cabotaje said while the Philippines has fully vaccinated 67 million individuals, only 12 million have received their boosters.
Malacañang on Friday said the Duterte administration aims to put the country under the "new normal" before he steps down this year, and fully vaccinate 100 percent of the eligible population.
When asked if government can achieve this in just 3 months, Cabotaje said they could try.
"Aaralin natin 'yan with much difficulty. Kailangan natin i-push. Napakalaki ng ating challenge. . . Mahihirapan pero titingnan natin kung ano pa yung puwede nating gawin," she said.
Cabotaje also admitted the DOH's difficulties in administering remaining COVID-19 vaccines in the country, 27 million shots of which are about to expire, according to Concepcion.
Cabotaje said the country's inoculation drive slowed down this year after peaking in November 2021. Her agency is eyeing the deployment of "social mobilizers" in areas with low vaccination coverage.
"Bumaba ng December; January February, bumaba nang bumaba dahil bumaba din 'yung ating mga kaso at naging complacent ang mga taong pagbabakuna," she noted.
"Akala nila tama na 'yung 2 dose o hindi na kailangan ng bakuna kasi wala naman nang mga kaso. We are ramping up our advocacy tapos yung mga special vaccination areas sa mga mababang output ng bakuna."
In a statement, the DOH said the country's vaccination efforts is "ongoing non-stop" with special and national inoculation days launched in select areas to improve the numbers.
"We are at a point of the vaccination drive where-in a majority of the population has already been vaccinated. In light of this, vaccination rate is expected to drop and extra efforts must be made to reach and find the remaining individuals who have yet to receive a single dose," the statement read.
When it comes to the near-expiry of COVID-19 vaccines, the agency assured the public that they already coordinated with manufacturers to have their shelf life extended.
During the public briefing, Cabotaje failed to give an exact figure on the expiring vaccines, and said the number is still being verified.
In a separate statement to reporters, the agency said the close to expiring vials "may be considered to be donated to neighboring countries for immediate utilization."
This was a plan they earlier revealed earlier this year.
"Kung hindi na, idi-distribute pa rin natin sa buong bansa. Ang target natin ay make all the vaccines available in the bakuna center para kung isa o dalawa ang magpabakuna, may available vaccine," she said.
"We were thinking na mas maganda nang overstocked tayo kaysa wala tayong stock ng bakuna."
The country fought a surge of new COVID-19 cases in January brought by the local transmission of the omicron variant.
Philippines, however, has recorded less than 400 daily COVID-19 cases for the 6th straight day on Friday, data analyzed by the ABS-CBN Data Analytics team showed.
The 38,320 active infections, meanwhile, is the lowest since January 4, ABS-CBN Data Analytics head Edson Guido said.