WASHINGTON - The U.S. is expected to hit a critical milestone in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday: 200 million U.S. adults are expected to have received at least one one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
"Our top priority remains first and second shots. Overall, more than three out of four eligible Americans — those Americans 12 and older — have gotten at least their first shot," said Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 coordinator.
"Importantly, 94 percent of seniors — those 65 and older — have at least one shot. And tomorrow, we will hit an important milestone: 200 million adults with at least one shot," Zients added.
The milestone comes as businesses and state governments across the country have issued various mandates requiring patrons and workers to get vaccinated in an effort to quell the pandemic that had killed more than 690,000 Americans as of Sept. 28.
Lawyers with the Justice Department determined that federal law does not prohibit public agencies and private businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccines under emergency use authorization, according to an opinion posted by the DOJ last month, FOX News reported.
Hospitals and nursing homes around the U.S. are bracing for worsening staff shortages as state deadlines arrive for health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
With ultimatums taking effect this week in states like New York, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the fear is that some employees will quit or let themselves be fired or suspended rather than get the vaccine.
About a dozen states have vaccination mandates covering health care workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities or both. Some allow exemptions on medical or religious grounds, but those employees often must submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
States that have set such requirements tend to have high vaccination rates already. The highest rates are concentrated in the Northeast, the lowest ones in the South and Midwest.
The Biden administration also will require the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated under a rule still being developed.
The push to vaccinate comes after hospitals in multiple states were forced to ration health care amid the most recent COVID-19 surge.
Idaho public health leaders on Sept. 16, expanded health care rationing statewide and individual hospital systems in Alaska and Montana have enacted similar crisis standards amid a spike in the number of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization.
A hospital in Helena, Montana, was also forced to implement crisis standards of care amid a surge in COVID-19 patients. Critical care resources are at maximum capacity at St. Peter’s Health hospital, officials said Sept. 16.
One major medical supplier, Norco Medical, said demand for oxygen tanks and related equipment has increased, sometimes forcing the company to send patients home with fewer cylinders than they would normally provide. High-flow oxygen equipment — normally used in hospital or hospice care settings — is also being more frequently requested for at-home patients, said Norco President Elias Margonis.
"It seems like they're discharging aggressively to free up beds for new patients coming into the hospitals," Margonis said.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.