Fox News Host Confronts GOP Governor Over Opposition to Vaccine Mandates, Cites Polio

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace confronted Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts over the latter's opposition to President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandates—questioning the Republican about why he views the commander-in-chief's orders differently than requirements for students in Nebraska to receive a number of vaccinations before enrolling in school.

Under Biden's new executive orders, all executive branch employees and federal contractors will be required to get vaccinated. Additionally, all employers with 100 or more workers will be required to mandate vaccines or have workers receive weekly testing for COVID-19. Employers will be mandated to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated.

The president also extended a previous mandate requiring health care workers who treat patients at Medicare and Medicaid-participating facilities to get vaccinated. That would include all Americans who work in hospitals, home health care facilities, and other medical centers.

However, Ricketts was one of a number of GOP governors who condemned Biden's decision, which is estimated to directly impact about 100 million American workers. The Republican leader last week said that Biden "thinks we live in the Soviet Union," slamming the decision from the White House.

Wallace pushed back against this assessment in an interview with the governor on Fox News Sunday this weekend.

"You say it's a personal choice. In fact, to attend school in your state of Nebraska, children must be vaccinated against a number of diseases," Wallace pointed out.

The Fox News host then listed the vaccinations on the screen. They include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox.

"Why are those mandates that parents in your state must comply with, and do comply with routinely, why is it that they're not so objectionable and such a violation of personal freedom but Biden's vaccine mandates are?" Wallace asked Ricketts.

Chris Wallace and Pete Ricketts
In this screenshot, 'Fox News Sunday' host Chris Wallace questions Nebraska GOP Governor Pete Ricketts on why he opposes President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates when his state requires a number of vaccinations for students before they attend school. Fox News Sunday/screenshot

"For all those that you just listed, there's a long history that parents have had the opportunity to see how those things have been implemented," Ricketts responded.

The Republican governor said a lot of people "don't know what to trust," arguing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to blame for providing what many see as conflicting guidance to the American public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"By having the government force [vaccines] ... you're not building the trust you have with those other vaccines," he said.

Wallace then cut in to cite the example of the polio vaccine, which came into commercial use in the 1960s.

"Forgive me sir, I'm old enough that I remember when the polio vaccine first came out. A lot of us, and certainly our parents, viewed it as a blessing and immediately—I lived in New York state at that time—the state mandated that we all get the polio vaccine," Wallace told Ricketts. "So, we're in the middle of a pandemic, there is a new vaccine that [former President] Donald Trump was largely responsible for. It's been approved—full approval by the FDA. Again, if the polio vaccine is OK for parents and they have to comply with it to send their kid to school, why not for a lot of people—not just kids—the vaccine for this disease?"

Ricketts responded by saying that COVID-19 is "very different from polio," saying that virtually eradicated disease "has very devastating effects." He suggested that it was more imperative for people above the age of 65 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, pointing out that the elderly age demographic is more likely to get severely sick and die from the disease. The governor also asserted that the vast majority of elderly people in Nebraska are already vaccinated.

"Really, children are no more at risk for the coronavirus than they are for the ordinary flu," Ricketts said. "So, it's all about balancing off these risks and the risk for this is just such that this is something where we shouldn't be mandating it," he said.

Additionally, the governor said the goal in Nebraska right now is preserving hospital capacity, saying his state has "successfully done that."

Although Ricketts argued that the risks of COVID-19 don't necessitate a mandate, the chickenpox vaccine is required for children entering school in Nebraska despite a substantially lower risk of death and hospitalization. Just 10,500 Americans are hospitalized due to chickenpox on average per year while only 100 to 150 people die, according to the CDC. Comparatively, more than 100,000 people on average have been hospitalized with COVID-19 on any given day in the U.S. over the past two weeks, while more than 1,600 on average continue to die per day.

Newsweek reached out to Ricketts press representative for further comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

Although some Republican governors have vowed to challenge Biden's executive orders, the president has said he is not concerned about these efforts.

"Have at it," Biden answered on Friday when questioned about the GOP pushback. He also said he was "so disappointed" with the response from some Republican governors.

As of Sunday morning, about 63 percent of all Americans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. Meanwhile, more than 75 percent of American adults have received one dose, while 65 percent have received both shots.