Surgeon General: Court's block of vaccine mandate 'would be a setback for public health'

Booster vaccines ‘extend, enhance’ COVID protection: US Surgeon General

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says the White House is focused on getting more booster-eligible individuals vaccinated ahead of the winter season.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals continued its temporary block of a federal mandate for all private businesses with 100 or more employees to require coronavirus vaccines or weekly testing and face masks, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is concerned about the consequences if the mandate gets shot down entirely.

The court had previously blocked the mandate pending written briefs from both sides, then continued to block it for the duration of the case after reviewing the legal arguments for and against it. Murthy, in a conversation with “Fox News Sunday,” expressed concern over the possibility that the mandate could be scrapped for good.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy delivers remarks during a news conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at the White House in Washington, July 15, 2021. 
(REUTERS/Tom Brenner)

“I think it would be a setback for public health,” Murthy said. “What we know very clearly is that when people get vaccinated – and the more people who get vaccinated the quicker we’re able to bring this pandemic to an end — the more lives that we can ultimately save.”

The surgeon general went on to say that vaccine requirements “work remarkably well,” and that some businesses were going ahead without a mandate and requiring employees to be immunized.

The Fifth Circuit, in a scathing opinion, said that the mandate – done through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – was both overly inclusive by not bothering to take into account differences in workplace settings, and exclusionary by looking to protect workers in larger companies “from a ‘grave danger’ in the workplace,” while at the same time “making no attempt to shield employees” at companies whose workforce numbers fall short of the cutoff.

The court also doubted whether OSHA had the authority to issue such an order, noting that OSHA’s authority to issue emergency orders may not statutorily cover airborne viruses that are not exclusive to the workplace.

President Biden speaks about the authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus Nov. 3, 2021 in Washington.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Murthy also addressed the possibility of a winter spike in COVID-19 cases. He said that while numbers are lower than what they were at the height of the delta variant, people staying indoors during cooler months “increases the possibility that there will be spread.”

Still, Murthy said, Americans are better off now than during previous spikes because they have access to both vaccines and other treatments.

Finally, Murthy was asked about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who drew ire for implying that he had been vaccinated, then admitting that he wasn’t vaccinated after he tested positive for COVID-19. Murthy delivered remarks directed toward Rodgers, who defended his decision not to get vaccinated, noting that while freedom is “extraordinarily important,” there is a societal duty to get immunized.

Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, was sidelined after testing positive for COVID.
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

“[K]eep in mind we are a community of 300 million people. We are not sole individuals entirely on our own,”  Murthy told Fox’s Chris Wallace. “In any community sometimes our decisions do affect other people. It’s why, Chris, we have speed limits on highways because we know our decision about how fast we drive affects the safety of others. When it comes to getting vaccinated, we know the people who are unvaccinated are at high risk of getting sick and spreading it to others.”

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