The COVID-19 pandemic, not vaccine mandates, is what is hurting the U.S. economy, and the Biden administration is confident it can survive the legal challenges that are growing against the requirements, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday.
"The president and the administration wouldn't have put these requirements in place if they didn't think they were appropriate and necessary," Murthy told ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. "It's important our workplaces are safe, that workers feel safe, and our customers feel safe, and we know at this point in the pandemic when we've come so far, and we have 75,000 cases a day, it's important we take every measure possible to make our workplaces safer.
"It's good for people's health. It's good for the economy and that's why these requirements make so much sense."
A U.S. federal appeals court issued a stay Saturday to freeze the efforts to make companies that have at least 100 employees to require their workers to be either vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly, citing "grave statutory and constitutional" issues with the rule.
The ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit cites "grave statutory and constitutional issues" with the mandates, which are set to take effect Jan. 4.
At least 27 states have filed lawsuits against the workplace mandate, claiming it will create economic hardships and disruptions to states and private employers.
But COVID is the real issue, Murthy told ABC News' Martha Raddatz.
"Millions of workers have gotten sick because of COVID," he said. "Millions more have had to be quarantined and think of how disruptive that's been to businesses. One of the reasons why you would see thousands of companies moving forward with requirements even before the federal deadline is because they've realized how important and helpful it is for the health of their workers and for the health of their businesses to have everyone vaccinated."
Further, vaccine mandates are not new, he said, and there is "nothing off the table" about extending them to companies hiring fewer than 100 employees.
"The average businesses that put these requirements in place see a 20% vaccination rate increase," Murthy said. "If vaccines are a key pathway out of the pandemic, this will do a lot to get us toward the finish line."
Pfizer on Friday announced it has a new anti-viral pill that reduces the risk of hospitalization and deaths from COVID by 89% in high-risk individuals.
Murthy said the medicines have to be evaluated by the FDA, but the best way to keep people out of the hospital or dying is to keep them from getting COVID at all, and "getting vaccinated must be at the heart of our strategy."
"A pill is not a substitute for getting vaccinated," he stressed.
There have also been "very good" results in trials for children's shots, which are showing 90% and 91% efficacy in that age group.
"We'll follow children over time, but those results were very, very promising and it's one of the reasons I'm planning to take my 5-year-old to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Murthy said.
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