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Emergency medical technicians and health care workers treat patients outside the emergency room at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, in Huntington Park, Calif., on Dec. 29, 2020.

BING GUAN/Reuters

More Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday than at any time since the pandemic began, as coronavirus infections and deaths soared across much of the United States and a historic vaccination effort lagged.

U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a record 130,834 late on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, while 3,684 reported fatalities was the second-highest single-day death toll of the pandemic.

With total COVID-19 cases expected to surpass the 21 million mark on Wednesday, pressure mounted on state and local officials to speed up distribution of the two authorized vaccines from Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.

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The lack of a federal blueprint for the crucial final step of getting the vaccines into tens of millions of arms has left officials in charge of the monumental effort, creating a patchwork of different plans across U.S. states.

Some states have summoned extra resources to speed vaccine administrations. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper on Tuesday mobilized the state’s National Guard to “provide support to local health providers” to more quickly distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“We will use all resources and personnel needed,” Cooper said in a statement.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also announced that, beginning on Wednesday, the emergency support teams from the Maryland National Guard will be dispatched to lend a hand to local health departments in their vaccination efforts.

“At the current pace of allocation,” Hogan said, the state expects to be able to start vaccinating the 1b priority group – people age 75 and older and front line essential workers – by late January.

Another 3 million doses of the two vaccines were sent to U.S. states on Tuesday, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in a statement, bringing the total to more than 19 million doses in 21 days.

Both authorized vaccines require two doses three or four weeks apart. Healthcare workers in several states this week began getting their second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was approved prior to the Moderna shot.

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The U.S. government is considering halving the doses of Moderna’s vaccine to free up supply for more vaccinations. But scientists at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna said it could take two months to study whether the halved doses would be effective.

Meanwhile, CVS Health Corp said on Wednesday it expects to complete administering the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines at nearly 8,000 U.S. nursing homes by Jan. 25.

Dr. Kanna Vela has been treating COVID-19 patients in emergency departments in Ajax and Scarborough, Ontario for nearly 10 months. She lived apart from her family at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Receiving her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in late December has given Dr. Vela some hope for the months ahead as hospitals struggle to care for the rise in COVID-19 cases.

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