Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday defended the Biden administration's latest COVID-19 vaccine requirements, stating they are within the federal government's legal authority.
"There are requirements that we put in workplaces every day to make sure that workplaces and schools are safe," Murthy said.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that all federal workers, contractors and healthcare workers employed by institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to get vaccinated and directed the Department of Labor to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to require that workers be fully vaccinated or get tested for the virus once a week.
The mandate would also require 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs to be fully vaccinated.
A total of 209,437,152 Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as 73.8% of all eligible Americans aged 12 and older have at least received their first shot, while 63% are fully vaccinated, according to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mandate also comes amid a surge in cases brought on by the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant, as the CDC has reported a seven-day moving average of 135,749 new COVID-19 cases as of Friday. The United States leads the world with 40,944,332 total infections and a death toll of 659,909 since the start of the pandemic, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
Murthy on Sunday said he did not believe the administration would have put forward the mandate if they did note believe it was an "appropriate legal to take," citing authority given to the Department of Labor under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to "ensure that the workplace is safe for workers."
"These are focused on areas where the federal government has legal authority to act," said Murthy.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told NBC News' Meet the Press Sunday that while he "appreciated" Murthy's comments he believes the mandate "hardens the resistance" against the vaccine, noting that prior mandates in schools and other institutions were implemented at the state level.
"It divides our partnership between the federal government and the states," Hutchinson said of the administration's latest move. "And it increases the division in terms of vaccination when we should all be together trying to increase the vaccination uptake."
A total of 26 states have fully vaccinated more than 50% of their population, however, some have seen intensive care units in hospitals fill up with unvaccinated patients, CNN reported.
In Colorado, where 75% of the states eligible residents have at least begun their vaccine regimen, Gov. Jared Polis pleaded with the remaining eligible residents to "go out and get protected so that we can end this pandemic" citing increasing hospitalization numbers.
"We actually have the lowest ICU available rate that we've had since the start of this crisis, in part due to the unvaccinated with COVID and just other types of trauma that goes up seasonally this time of year," Polis said. "Some hospitals are reaching very close to their capacity limits and that wouldn't be happening if people were vaccinated."