U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Sunday said the mandate ordering businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations against COVID-19 is "good for people's health" and the economy. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Top members of the Biden administration on Sunday defended the president's mandate directing private-sector workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as it was blocked by a federal appeals court.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Sunday said he was "quite confident" that the mandate would be upheld in courts, while U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the mandate is "good for people's health" and the economy.
Klain told NBC News' Meet the Press, that it was "common sense" that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration required vaccination for workers at companies with more than 100 employees or require unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly testing and wear face masks on the job by Jan. 5 would withstand the legal challenge.
"If OSHA can tell people to wear a hard hat on the job, to be careful around chemicals, it can put in place these simple measures to keep our workers safe," he said.
At least 26 states have filed legal challenges against the mandate and a three-judge panel for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay against the order on Saturday, stating that the legal challenge gave "cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues" with the mandate.
Murthy on Sunday also defended the legality of the mandate in an appearance on ABC News' This Week, noting that the United States has a history of using vaccine requirements to protect the population.
"The president and the administration wouldn't have put these requirements in place if they didn't think that they were appropriate and necessary and the administration is certainly prepared to defend them," he said.
The surgeon general added that it is important that the administration "take every measure possible to make our workplaces safer" amid the pandemic.
"It's good for people's health, it's good for the economy and that's why these requirements make so much sense," Murthy said.
He also said that the administration would not rule out the possibility of extending the mandate to businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
"What we've seen in a report issued recently was that, on average, businesses that put these requirements in place see a 20% increase in vaccination rates, often boosting them into the 90s," Murthy said. "If we realize, as we have over the past year, that vaccination is one of our key pathways out of this pandemic, these requirements will do a lot to get us over the finish line."
Responding to concerns that the mandate could cost employees their jobs and otherwise negatively impact the economy, Murthy said that business leaders and workers have told him "time and time again" that the virus is "what's really hurting the economy."
"There are times where we recognize that our decisions have a broader effect on people around us," he said. "COVID has reminded us of that, and that's why having these types of requirements in workplaces will be not only helpful, it's a necessary step to accelerate our pathway out of the pandemic."
The mandate was unveiled amid a broad decrease in COVID-19 cases while 193,627,929 people have been fully vaccinated including 68.2% of people aged 12 and older and 223,245,121 people have received at least one dose at 78.6% of the population aged 12 and older.
In addition, 23,175,194 people, or 12% of those fully vaccinated, have received a booster shot, while vaccinations are expected to be widely available for children aged 5-11 by Monday.
Murthy cited the developments as a "tremendous amount of progress" against the virus and said that while he is "cautiously optimistic" measures to prevent the spread remain important.
"If COVID has shown us anything is that we can't get to take our foot off the accelerator until we're at the finish line," he said. "And that means we've got to continue on our work to get people vaccinated in this country and take precautions until that job is done."
Responding to reports that an anti-viral pill developed by Pfizer to treat COVID-19 is nearly 90% effective, Murthy said that vaccines remain the best way to prevent contracting COVID-19.
"There is a 100% effective strategy to avoid hospitalization and death," said Murthy. "Getting vaccinated still must be at the heart of our strategy as a therapeutic pill is not a substitute for getting vaccinated."