U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy defended the actions of the Biden administration in a Sunday interview on ABC's "This Week" after it announced a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate for companies with 100 employees or more.
"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," Murthy told ABC News "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, adding that the U.S. has a history of using vaccine requirements to protect the population.
The Biden administration on Thursday released new federal rules that view COVID-19 as an occupational hazard, meaning nearly 100 million U.S. workers will be required to have proof of the COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 4, with some workers allowed to test weekly.
"It's important we take every measure possible to make our workplaces safer," Murthy said. "It's good for people's health, it's good for the economy, and that's why these requirements make so much sense."
At least 27 states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia, have already filed lawsuits against the rule, arguing that the mandate is unconstitutional.
Multiple business groups have also pushed back against the announcement. The National Retail Federation called the rule "burdensome" on retailers as they enter the holiday shopping season.
Raddatz pressed Murthy on the impact that this mandate could have on businesses and the economy, as the U.S. currently faces a labor shortage and strains on the supply chain.
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"I hear time and time again, from small businesses, large businesses and workers is that what's really hurting the economy is actually COVID itself," Murthy said. "There are times where we recognize that our decisions have a broader effect on people around us. 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 currently affects businesses with over 100 employees, covering two-thirds of the nation’s workforce. But when asked by Raddatz if there’s a possibility of the mandate being extended to employers with fewer than 100 employees, Murthy said nothing is off the table and argued that mandates like these do work.
"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 to over the finish line."
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CNBC this week that the U.S. could be mostly through with the pandemic by the time these mandates are in put in place. Raddatz pointed that out, and Murthy said he is cautiously optimistic about where the country is heading because of vaccinations.
"We've gotten over 190 million people fully vaccinated in our country, [and] we now have a vaccine for children 5 through 11," he said. "That's 28 million more people who now had the opportunity to get vaccinated. I think we made a tremendous amount of progress."
And now, with news of a new anti-viral pill from Pfizer -- which the company said reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 89% -- Raddatz also asked about the impact that could have on the trajectory of the pandemic if approved.
Murthy said the announcement of the pill is good news but added that getting vaccinated is still the best way to avoid contracting COVID-19.
"There is a 100% effective strategy to avoid hospitalization and death," Murthy said. "Getting vaccinated still must be at the heart of our strategy, as a therapeutic pill is not a substitute for getting vaccinated."
As younger kids across the country start to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Raddatz pressed Murthy on whether or not the country could possibly see the same level of breakthrough cases in children as it has in adults.
"We've seen very good results in the clinical trials," Murthy said. "We're going to continue to follow children over time, but those results were very, very promising, and it's one of the reasons why I'm planning to take my 5-year-old to get vaccinated as soon as possible."