Biden says nation is 'headed in the right direction' on Covid but now is a 'very critical period'

President Joe Biden, seen here at the White House on October 13, will highlight the ongoing work on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots and the effectiveness of vaccination requirements on October 14 a White House official told CNN.

By Kate Sullivan and Betsy Klein, CNN

(CNN) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday said the nation is "headed in the right direction" with its pandemic response but said it was "essential" that the 66 million unvaccinated Americans get their Covid-19 shots.

During brief remarks from the White House, Biden argued that vaccine requirements, which he has promoted for weeks, have been effective. He cited falling Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations across the country.

"It's important progress, but it's not -- now's not the time to let up. We have a lot more to do. We're in a very critical period as we work to turn the corner on Covid-19," Biden said.

He called on more businesses to "step up" and implement vaccine requirements, and said such requirements "should not be another issue that divides us." He said his administration continues to combat misinformation about the vaccines and provide accurate information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Biden stressed the need to keep schools safely open, and noted Pfizer and BioNTech had submitted Covid-19 vaccine data on children ages 5 to 11 to the FDA for initial review.

"If authorized, we are ready. We have purchased enough vaccines for all children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States, and we'll be, it'll be convenient for parents to get their children vaccinated at trusted locations, and families will be able to sleep easier at night knowing their kids are protected as well," Biden said.

Biden delivered remarks after he and Vice President Kamala Harris received a briefing from members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team in the Oval Office.

The President updated the public on his national vaccination program as vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration discuss whether to authorize boosters of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for some adults. Last month, the FDA authorized booster doses of Pfizer's vaccine for certain people.

About 188 million people, or 66.2% of the eligible US population, is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 66 million people, or 23.3% of the eligible population, have not received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Biden has touted vaccination requirements in the private and public sector as an effective way to get more people vaccinated, and has expressed frustration with the tens of millions of Americans who have not received their vaccine and are fueling the spread of the virus.

Last month, the President announced stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in an attempt to contain the latest surge of the virus. The new requirements could apply to as many as 100 million Americans, which is close to two-thirds of the American workforce.

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that more than 3,500 organizations have adopted vaccine requirements, including major health systems, educational systems and private businesses. Zients said those mandates have increased vaccination rates by 20-plus percentage points, with organizations routinely seeing their share of fully vaccinated workers rise to above 90%.

Biden will also speak about his administration's efforts to keep schools open amid the pandemic, the official said.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday said the agency has been meeting with states to discuss a potential "test-to-stay" strategy in schools. Instead of quarantining students who have been exposed to the virus, students would get tested and if their result is negative they could stay in school and attend class.

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