Biden 'Disappointed' in Backlash Over Vaccine Mandates: 'This Isn't a Game'

U.S. President Joe Biden has a message for people who have promised to challenge his new mandates requiring vaccinations for some workers: "Have at it."

"I am disappointed that, particularly some Republican governors, have been so cavalier with the health of these kids—cavalier with the health of their communities," Biden said Friday while speaking at a Washington, D.C. middle school. "We're playing for real here—this isn't a game."

After months of dismissing suggestions that he might institute a broad vaccine edict, Biden announced that all federal employees and federal government contractors will have to get vaccinated on Thursday. Additionally, businesses with at least 100 employees will face Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations if they don't require workers to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 each week, and medical providers who receive money from the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs must require employee vaccinations.

"This is not about freedom, or personal choice," Biden said during a public address Thursday announcing the new mandates. "It's about protecting yourself and those around you—the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love."

Biden reiterated Friday, "I don't know of any scientist out there that doesn't think it makes considerable sense."

But he's faced considerable backlash from some accusing him of overstepping his authority with the sweeping vaccine requirement. Biden's Thursday address also included news on plans to step up mask enforcement in federal spaces, grow testing capacity, increase access to therapeutics for people who get COVID-19 and other measures, but the vaccine requirement has drawn the most attention among his six-step plan in response to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Several Republican governors were quick to share their opposition on social media and through press statements.

"Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian," South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said on Twitter. About 44.5 percent of South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated—one of the countries' lowest rates.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who has repeatedly expressed frustration over her state's low vaccination, called Biden's actions "outrageous" and "overreaching" and suggested that they be challenged in court.

"I've made it abundantly clear: I support the science and encourage folks taking the vaccine," Ivey said in a statement. "However, I am absolutely against a government mandate on the vaccine...This is not the role of the government."

With less than 40 percent of its population fully vaccinated, Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country.

Many private businesses, including Tyson Foods and United Airlines, already have announced vaccine mandates for employees. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country, also is mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all eligible students.

Biden's appearance at Brookland Middle School in the northeast area of D.C. was an attempt to plug the coronavirus-fighting measures that he has outlined to help schools safely reopen for the fall.

"Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new," Biden said. "They work, and they're overwhelmingly supported by educators and their unions."

COVID vaccines have been free and available to anyone 12 or older in the United States for the past five months.

Nearly 180 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Biden administration estimates that about 80 million people who are eligible have not received a single dose, though.

"The best way for parents to protect their child under 12 starts at home—every parent, every teen sibling, every caregiver around them should be vaccinated," Biden said.

COVID-19 has killed more than 652,000 people in the United States. The seven-day average number of deaths was 1,076—a massive surge since the number dipped to 192 in July.

For schools reopening, Biden has encouraged mask mandates and widespread testing efforts.

"To all the school officials trying to do the right thing by our children, I will always be on your side no matter how much heat you're getting from outside," he said, alluding to parents' anti-mask demonstrations that have broken out at schools in recent weeks.

Joe Biden responds to vaccine mandate backlash
Some Republican governors have called President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate "outrageous" and "overreaching." Biden speaks about coronavirus protections in schools during a visit to Brookland Middle School in Washington, D.C. on Friday. SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images