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Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Veterans, their spouses and caregivers will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the Department of Veterans Affairs as soon as doses are available, according to newly finalized legislation.

Why it matters: The VA has counted more than 11,000 deaths and recorded more than 223,500 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the medical system.

The state of play: President Biden is expected to sign the congressionally approved measure into law in the coming days, the Military Times reports.

  • Under existing rules, VA medical facilities can only give vaccines to those who are eligible for VA health services, as well as some caregivers registered in departmental support programs.
  • The number of people eligible for the vaccine through the VA currently hovers around 7 million. Under the new bill, that figure would jump to more than 20 million, per Military Times.
  • The bill would also allow veterans who are living abroad and enrolled in the VA's Foreign Medical Program to access the vaccine through the department.

The big picture: VA officials have cited concerns about supply challenges.

  • "When we have the supply to do it we will be in a position to really ramp that up," VA secretary Denis McDonough told CNN on Thursday.
  • Congress is expected to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to increase the VA's vaccine stock as much as the supply chain allows.

Go deeper

49 mins ago - Health

Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nevada's Public Employees' Benefit Program Board voted Thursday to charge workers enrolled in public employee health insurance plans a surcharge of up to $55 a month if they're not vaccinated against COVID-19, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state to announce such a move, per AP.

Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Getty Images

The state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in an attempt to block the enforcement of its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Why it matters: The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to exempt the state's National Guard from the mandate.

Congress passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate voted 69-28 to pass legislation Thursday night to fund the government until February 18.

Why it matters: The move staves off a government shutdown but lawmakers still have a busy month ahead: Congress needs to work out a deal to raise the debt ceiling in a few weeks and Democrats are trying to pass their behemoth social spending bill.

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