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President Biden told unvaccinated Americans Tuesday that getting the COVID vaccine is "your patriotic duty" and "an obligation to your country."

Why it matters: Biden's remarks come amid a surge in new cases largely driven by the Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the U.S.

What he's saying: "If you're not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned" about the Omicron variant, Biden warned.

  • "You’re at a high risk of getting sick. And if you get sick, you’re likely to spread it to others including friends and family, and the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in hospital, or even dying," he added.
  • "Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the past many months has been unvaccinated."

Biden also referenced former President Trump's announcement Sunday that he'd gotten a vaccine booster.

  • "Maybe one of the few things he and I agree on," Biden said.

Driving the news: The Biden administration announced Tuesday it plans to purchase 500 million rapid tests to deliver to people for free starting in January.

  • The federal government is also setting up additional testing sites and immediately sending emergency medical staffing to overwhelmed hospitals in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.
  • Officials have portioned out N95 masks, gloves, ventilators and other PPE from the national stockpile so they're ready for shipment to states in need of assistance, the administration.
  • An additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses and other health care workers will be deployed to medical centers as needed in January and February.

The big picture: People have struggled to find coronavirus tests ahead of the holidays amid a new surge in cases.

  • Given Omicron's transmissibility, accessible testing is more important than ever for life to go on without massive disruption, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

The bottom line: "This isn’t March of 2020. 200 million people are fully vaccinated," Biden said.

  • "We’re prepared; we know more. We just have to stay focused," he added. "There is no challenge too big for America."

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. It has been corrected to reflect Biden made the remarks on Tuesday, not Monday.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Minneapolis and St. Paul to require vaccine or test for indoor dining

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New vaccine-or-test requirements for indoor dining and drinking in Minneapolis and St. Paul take effect Wednesday.

The big picture: A growing number of major cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York, have instituted similar requirements in an effort to protect public health.

Yes, but: Questions about enforcement, logistics and effectiveness of the temporary measures here remain.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

HRW criticizes Biden over "mixed signals" on human rights

Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Human Rights Watch criticized President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations for sending "mixed signals" on human rights in its annual World Report published on Thursday, saying they "are not meeting the challenges before them."

Why it matters: Though Biden pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote that weapon sales to repressive governments and public reticence on certain human rights violations place those promises in question.