Surgeon general: New vaccine policies neither illegal nor unusual

By David Cohen
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he believed the administration’s new policy would withstand legal challenges. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
UPDATED: 12 SEP 2021 11:57 AM EST

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday defended the administration’s new Covid vaccine requirements, calling them “an appropriate legal measure“ that fit in with traditional safety requirements in schools and workplaces.

“We have to put this in context. There are requirements that we put in workplaces and in schools every day to make sure that workplaces and schools are safe,” Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week.”

President Joe Biden on Thursday issued broad new federal guidelines that, among other things, will use Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements to compel employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccination among their employees. Biden assailed the “25 percent” of Americans that have declined to be vaccinated. “That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage, and they are,” the president said.

Critics accused the president of exceeding his legal authority, a notion that Murthy rejected.

“These are focused on areas where the federal government has legal authority to act,” he said, adding: “We know these kind of requirements actually work to improve our vaccination rates.“

Murthy also said he believed the administration’s new policy would withstand legal challenges. “Certainly this wouldn't have been put forward if the president and the administration didn't believe that it was an appropriate legal measure to take,” he said.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Murthy also challenged the notion that Biden’s new policies reflect a flip-flop from the idea that vaccination should not be mandated. The surgeon general said it was merely a case of responding to a situation that had been changed by the emergence of the Delta variant.

“Over the last several months we've been working hard to get vaccines out to the public, partnering with the private sector, using every power the government has. Now in the face of Delta, we've got to move to the next phase of that response,” he said.

When asked by ABC host George Stephanopoulos about possible defiance of the administration‘s new requirements, Murthy said it was important not to lose sight of our shared goals as a country.

“What we cannot allow is for this pandemic to turn us on each other,” he said. “Our enemy is the virus; it is not one another.“

Appearing after Murthy on "Meet the Press," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said while he "appreciated" the surgeon general's remarks on fighting the virus through increased vaccination, the administration's new vaccine requirement is "an unprecedented assumption of federal mandate authority."

"It divides our partnership between the federal government and the states, and it increases the division in terms of vaccination when we should all be together trying to increase the vaccination uptake," the Republican governor said.

Hutchinson said he's trying to "overcome resistance" to the vaccine in his state, and "the president's actions in a mandate hardens the resistance" by increasing distrust with the government. He also said he supports businesses being able to require vaccinations and stressed that mandates should be left to state governments to decide on, but that a federal mandate is "counterproductive."

"Other states can make their own decisions, but it shouldn't be a federal government one-size-fits-all across the country," he said.

Kelly Hooper contributed to this report.


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