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WASHINGTON - U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday defended President Joe Biden's new directives requiring millions of workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus under the possible threat of losing their jobs, although there is widespread opposition from Republican state governors.
"This is not an unusual step," Murthy told ABC's "This Week" show. "This is an appropriate response."
With about 150,000 new delta variant coronavirus cases and 1,500 more deaths being recorded daily in the United States, Biden last week directed businesses with 100 employees or more to mandate vaccinations for their workers or require the employees to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing if they refuse inoculations.
About 80 million workers throughout the U.S. economy, the world's largest, could be affected by the Biden mandate, potentially costing them their jobs if they refuse vaccinations or testing.
The president also ordered about 2.5 million workers employed by the national government to get the shot if they haven't already, and he ended a previous option they had for weekly testing if they choose not to get the vaccine.
Some large companies had already started mandating vaccinations and executives at major businesses have generally voiced support for Biden's orders. But 19 Republican governors, many of them frequent critics of the Democratic president, have objected to his directives and say they are considering legal challenges.
One of the Republican governors, Nebraska's Pete Ricketts, told the "Fox News Sunday" show that the president's orders are an "egregious overreach" by the national government.
Ricketts said he has heard from many workers who are afraid they will be fired if they are forced to take the shot.
"You shouldn't have to make a choice between keeping your job or getting a jab in the arm," Ricketts said. "There's just a lot of people who don't know what to trust right now," even though federal health regulators have given full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine, the two most commonly administered coronavirus vaccines in the U.S.
Ricketts said that for some people, hesitancy "is really an outcome of what the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has done because they've flip-flopped on so many issues," such as whether one should wear a mask if they have been vaccinated and under what circumstances.
"It should be a personal choice (whether to get vaccinated), not something mandated by the government," he said.
Another Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, told NBC's "Meet the Press" show, "This is a very serious deadly virus, and we're all together in trying to get an increased level of vaccination out in the population."
But he added, "The problem is that I'm trying to overcome resistance, but the president's actions in a mandate hardens the resistance."
States throughout the country routinely require children to be vaccinated against communicable childhood diseases. Such requirements, Hutchinson said, "have always come at the state level, never at the national level."
"And so, this is an unprecedented assumption of federal mandate authority that really disrupts and divides the country," he said. "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."
Hutchinson said he, unlike some other Republican governors, supports the right of individual businesses to mandate inoculations for their workers.
"But to have the federal mandate will be counterproductive," he argued.
Months ago, Biden heralded what appeared to be a growing success in the fight against the coronavirus, but the delta variant has led to a new wave of concern, and the workplace vaccination mandates he ordered last week.
"Delta is a tough foe," Murthy told ABC. "It's throwing curve balls at us."
But he said health officials "know these kinds of vaccinations work," and described Biden's orders as "the next step" in fighting the virus that causes COVID-19.