By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES aims to fully vaccinate 77 million people against the coronavirus by the end of March, according to the presidential palace, as the government tries to boost defenses against more contagious variants.

“We expect 77 million Filipinos to be fully vaccinated by the end of the first quarter given the rate of our vaccine rollout,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told a news briefing on Tuesday, citing vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

About 90 million people will have been fully protected against the coronavirus by end-June, he added.

Mr. Nograles said the government injected an average of 987,045 doses daily on Jan. 10 to 14, with about 2.5 million more people having been fully inoculated.

“While these numbers are very encouraging, moving forward, the government plans to concentrate on regions and areas with more unvaccinated people to ensure that a greater proportion of our population in the provinces are protected from COVID,” he added.

He said the government expects that all registered voters will have been vaccinated against the coronavirus before the May 2022 elections.

“Before April or even May, we want our adult population to be fully vaccinated,” he said. “That way, it would be an additional protection for voters.”

Mr. Nograles said 55.19 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, while 63.8 million people have gotten their first dose. “With our vaccination’s current pace, the Philippines will be able to fully vaccinate 70% of its total population in 53 days.”

The palace official said more than 213.68 million vaccine doses have arrived in the Philippines as of Jan. 13, about 114.3 million of which had been paid for by the government, while 76.83 million were donated by various countries.

The country seeks to vaccinate more people as it struggles to contain a fresh spike in infections fueled by the highly mutated Omicron variant. Mr. Nograles said the country aims to inject at least 72.16 million booster shots by the end of the year.

About 4.7 million Filipinos have received their booster shots, Mr. Galvez said separately in a taped Cabinet meeting aired on Monday night.

“Based on our analysis, this is low because we almost simultaneously launched the vaccination of children,” he said in Filipino. “There are more than eight million children.”

He said the government had given out an average of 267,900 booster shots daily. “We need to double our output to 500,000 doses per day.”

The vaccine chief said the government must boost vaccination rates in Metro Manila and other areas that have fully vaccinated more than 70% of their population. Vaccination sites for booster shots must also be expanded.

He said the government would roll out vaccine boosters in select pharmacies and private clinics in the capital region starting this week.

“This is our way forward to hand over the responsibility of the vaccination from National Government-centered to its complete devolution to the local government units and the private sector in preparation for the future commercialization of the vaccine,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Trade department sees little need for the government to enforce massive lockdowns amid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez cited the country’s high vaccination rate especially in Metro Manila. Severe and critical cases have also not increased and are unlikely to overwhelm the country’s health system, he told an online news briefing.

“As long as that number does not increase, there is less risk of overwhelming the health system,” he said. “With that, we more or less assure (everybody) that there is less need for a lockdown.” — with Revin Mikhael D. Ochave