Vaccine Boosters, Olympics Spectators, Afghanistan's Future: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published June 21, 2021 at 7:08 AM EDT
Two adults hold flaming torches above their heads during the Olympic Torch Relay In Yamagata, Japan. They wear matching white and red Olympic clothes.
Carl Court
Getty Images AsiaPac
Torch bearers exchange flames as the Olympic torch relay makes its way around Japan. Organizers for the Olympics announced today that some spectators will be allowed into each venue, as long as no state of emergency is in effect.

Good morning 🌞

It's finally summer, and we're kicking it off with the Morning Edition live blog. This is a new space where we'll be sharing the most important stories that are developing each morning.

Today we're watching:

- The Morning Edition live blog team:
Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Arielle Retting, Nell Clark and William Jones


How Vaccinations Are Going In The U.S.: Booster Shots May Be In Our Future

Posted June 21, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT

With July Fourth less than two weeks away, the country is inching closer to President Biden's goal to have 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated. There is also the question of how long vaccine protection lasts and what the road ahead for potential booster shots may look like.

NPR's Allison Aubrey has been keeping us updated. Here's what we know this morning:

How close is the U.S. to meeting Biden's vaccination goal? About 16 states, including all of the New England states, have surpassed the goal. Nationwide, about 65% of adults have received at least one vaccine dose.

On the other end of things, there are spots such as the Branson, Mo., area where cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins says he is intensely concerned about the areas where vaccinations lag behind.

"With new variants arriving like this Delta variant, which is much more contagious and probably more dangerous, some of those communities are really at risk," Collins says.

Here's a state-by-state look at how vaccinations are going.

Will we need to get COVID-19 booster shots in the fall or next year?
Currently, public health officials, scientists and the companies that make the vaccines are all tracking how well immunity holds up in people who have been vaccinated. This will take time because there are two things under review: the extent immunity can wane, and whether variants undermine the effectiveness of the vaccine.

In the meantime, policymakers and vaccine companies are preparing for the possibility that boosters may be needed.

Are the vaccine-makers working on boosters that specifically target the new variants? Yes. In January when it looked like the Beta variant that was first identified in South Africa could be a problem, Moderna quickly created a new version of its vaccine over the course of a weekend; within a month the company had started a clinical trial.

Collins says the technology behind the vaccines is one that is adaptable to putting together a booster that goes after a different virus variant. In the future, vaccine manufacturers aim to use the same technology to create new vaccines to fight everything from the flu to HIV.


Cross-Country Adopted Pups Sit, Stay And Help Us Through The Pandemic

Posted June 21, 2021 at 9:02 AM EDT
Six illustrated dogs are shown with their names and locations.
Sarah Mirk for NPR
2020 brought a boost to pet adoptions across the country.

2020 was an emotional year, to say the least. Many Americans managed their stress by getting a new lockdown buddy. The pet adoption rate soared as a result.

According to the nonprofit Shelter Animals Count, the adoption rate for dogs and cats increased 9% last year. There are no official statistics for this, but the national rate for belly rubs and tail wags likely increased, too.

"Man’s best friend" became "man’s best quarantine roommate/stand-in therapist" as people found comfort and companionship in their pandemic pets.

But this upward trend isn’t just another pandemic side effect. Adoption rates have been rising for years due to national spay and neuter programs, and a blossoming network of rescue organizations that transport pets. The network works like this: Pets from states where the pet population exceeds the demand for adoptions are transported around the country to states where the pet supply is too low.

That’s why when you go to your local shelter’s adoption site, you might see animals from across the country.

Graphic journalist and longtime hopeful dog owner Sarah Mirk explored all the logistics of pet adoption this past year when she set out to bring home her own pandemic pup. Click here to read the full comic (and gaze happily at all 50 of its adorable dog illustrations!)


The Tokyo Olympics Will Now Allow Some Local Spectators, Pandemic Permitting

Posted June 21, 2021 at 8:51 AM EDT
A large statue of the five colorful Olympic rings sits atop the Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo, against the grey backdrop of a bridge and high-rise buildings.
Kazuhiro Nogi
AFP via Getty Images
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23, after being postponed by a year because of the pandemic.

The Tokyo Olympics are a month away, and organizers are changing their stance on domestic spectators.

They announced today that some local fans will be able to attend the games in person, as long as the country isn't under another state of emergency.

Read the full story here, or take a listen.

Who can attend?

International spectators are not allowed. The limit on domestic fans is 50% of each venue's capacity, or up to 10,000 attendees. But this could change if coronavirus cases surge, and a final decision is expected by July 16.

What's the state of the pandemic in Japan?

Japan has just lifted its third state of emergency for Tokyo and eight other regions, and its vaccine rollout is accelerating rapidly. Still, many Japanese are dissatisfied with the government's pandemic response and worry the Olympics will prompt a rise in infections. Government advisers say it's safest to ban all spectators.

How is the government responding?

For one, they turned away an athlete from Uganda who tested positive at an airport outside of Tokyo over the weekend. Officials say the unnamed individual can enter the country after testing negative.

They're taking a number of other steps, including canceling viewing events at big-screen sites in Tokyo and converting those venues into vaccination centers, cutting the number of Olympic officials and family members in attendance, and scrapping plans to distribute free condoms to athletes in the Olympic Village — giving them out to take home instead.

NPR Enterprise

As The U.S. Leaves Afghanistan, The Afghans Who Helped Fear For Their Lives

Posted June 21, 2021 at 9:14 AM EDT

The Biden administration is moving forward with its plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. That has a lot of Afghans worried, especially those who aided the U.S.

More than 18,000 Afghans are seeking visas to come to the United States. These are people who worked for the U.S. military or other government agencies as interpreters, translators, drivers, cooks, cultural advisers and staff.

Three people in plain clothes stand and look on while a person in camouflage clothes writes in a notebook.
David Bathgate/Corbis via Getty Images
Corbis Historical
An Afghan interpreter working with US Army troops takes inventory of humanitarian aid supplies dropped by air near Mondi Village, Afghanistan in 2007.

NPR spoke with one man in Afghanistan who said he's so afraid for his safety, he doesn't want to use his name. He worked with a contractor on a project with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Now he's receiving calls from insurgents threatening to kill him and kidnap his kids. He applied for a special immigrant visa, but because he didn't have enough documentation to prove two years of qualifying service for the U.S. government, his visa was denied.

I'm more than frustrated. I could not imagine how careless they could be, and against their own friends. I was a friend. I worked with them. More than a friend, actually. I supported the mission. It's like deception. I feel I've been deceived by the U.S.
Afghan citizen who aided the U.S. mission in Afghanistan

Some U.S. military personnel have supported the visa applications of Afghans who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces. Retired Army Maj. Weston Amaya says he relied on his young Afghan interpreter during relentless fighting in Kunar province. You can hear him describe what happened on one of those missions below.

Steve Inskeep speaks with Ret. Major Weston Amaya

Since 2013, Amaya has tried, without success, to get his interpreter to the U.S. Last month, he received a frantic email from the interpreter: "Please sir, rescue me from the enemy. Please do something to save me."

You can read more of their stories and listen to how they're struggling to get visas that could protect them and their families.


Author Ibram X. Kendi's Top Summer Books For Young Readers

Posted June 21, 2021 at 8:37 AM EDT

If you've got a young adult in your life, we've got summer reading suggestions from author and historian Ibram X. Kendi.

You might know Kendi for his bestselling books that discuss racism and actions to create meaningful change. He's the author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won a National Book Award. He recently released a version of this book for a younger audience called Stamped for Kids, which he co-wrote with Jason Reynolds.

Kendi told NPR's Steve Inskeep that when he reads to his 5-year-old daughter, he makes sure to pick books that include many kinds of people. Here are some of his top picks:

Collage. Book covers, from left: The Black Friend, Candlewick Press; Brown Girl Dreaming, Puffin;
Candlewick Press; Puffin; Ember
Some of Ibram X. Kendi's recommendations

- The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph. Kendi says this essay collection is for anyone striving to take down the structures of racism.
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This memoir is about the author’s childhood growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s.
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone. This book is about an African American teen grappling with his identity through journal writing.
- I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez. Kendi likes exploring human imperfections, and this offers us a taste of that. It’s about, well, a girl who thinks she's not the perfect daughter.

🎧 Listen to the full interview with Kendi and check out more of his recommendations, here.


The Most Senior U.S. Diplomat In Afghanistan Says The Taliban Remain Very Active But Has Faith In The Security Forces

Posted June 21, 2021 at 7:35 AM EDT
U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson sits with arms and legs crossed. Behind him are U.S. and Afghan flags and a backdrop reading "U.S. Embassy Kabul".
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images
Ambassador Ross Wilson, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan, speaks at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

What kind of country will U.S. troops leave behind when they depart Afghanistan?

When U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban out of power 20 years ago, not a single cell phone worked there, independent media was non-existent and few girls were in school.

Things are very different now but how Afghans can hold onto those gains remains an important question.

Steve Inskeep spoke with Ambassador Ross Wilson, the current U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan.

On the dangers Afghans are facing in the coming weeks and months: "I think on current trends, the [Taliban] are very, very active there militarily. They are very active, more or less all around the country. The Afghan security forces remain strong. They're well-equipped. They have good leaders. The longer term picture is, of course, somewhat harder to see. Our objective at present is to do what we can to support the Islamic Republic.”

What U.S. assets will remain in the country after the troop withdrawal? “The U.S. embassy intends to remain open. This remains a large and robust embassy," Wilson says. "We continue to work on the peace process. We have not given up on that. We are working in a variety of ways to support the rights of women and girls and minorities, to promote the rule of law, to help the country deal with corruption, [and] to promote our interests here."

🎧 Hear the full interview.


Many Students Lost Special Education Services During The Pandemic. Now What?

Posted June 21, 2021 at 7:24 AM EDT
 Maddie, 6, sits atop her lofted bed, which is styled like a tree house. She wears a patterned dress and brown sandals and looks toward a window.
Elissa Nadworny
After six-year-old Maddie's school in Anne Arundel County, Md., went all virtual, she missed more than 200 hours of special education instruction, as well as 38 speech therapy sessions.

Some 7 million students across the U.S. receive special education services, under a federal law that entitles them to a “free and appropriate” public education.

Or at least they did, until the pandemic closed down classrooms last March.

Many of these services either disappeared or went remote, which caregivers say has been devastating for children with disabilities. They mostly blame the larger educational bureaucracy, not individual teachers.

For the past few months, Rebecca Klein, formerly of HuffPost, and I have been looking into the growing number of legal complaints filed by families of children with disabilities.

These families are demanding their school districts provide “compensatory services” to make up for the special education services that were disrupted when schools went remote during the pandemic. Here’s what we found.


The Legacy Of The One Child Policy In China

Posted June 21, 2021 at 9:32 AM EDT

This year, China lifted the cap to three children – a drastic change in a country that until 2016, forced families to have one child at most.

But for the families of Linyi city, the policy change barely registered. In 2005, the city was the epicenter of a vicious campaign to enforce the One Child Policy, as it was called. Euphemistically-named family planning officials helped kidnap or beat residents trying to have their second or third child. Women were forced to undergo sterilizations and even abortions if they were found in violation.

Many people fought desperately to have children anyways, including one mother whose son is part of the last generation of children in China whose births were ruled illegal at the time.

“It has been so many years, and I have let the pain go,” the mother says, eyes downcast. “If you carry it with you all the time, it gets too tiring.”

So the mother went into hiding to carry their son to term. One night, family planning officials approached her husband, intending to pressure him and his wife into ending the pregnancy. He used a pickaxe to drive them off but spent half a year in prison afterwards.

Families like her are struggling to make sense of the new Three Child Policy. “All we can do is go on living,” she says about that time. “I do not care anymore about the past. There is no use in trying to make sense of society.”

You can listen here to find out more about the impact of the one child policy. And a word of warning, this story contains disturbing and violent content.

Before You Go

Who Needs An Alarm Clock When You Have A Wild Peacock In Your Neighborhood?

Posted June 21, 2021 at 9:53 AM EDT

We'll be signing off shortly, but want to leave you with this colorful tale (pun intended.)

A peafowl and five small chicks cross the grassy yard outside of a house in Arcadia, California.
Mario Tama
Getty Images North America
As divisive peacocks roam free in Southern California, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering a ban on the intentional feeding of any peafowl.

In East Pasadena, California, folks have been waking up to the caw of feral peacocks. While some people consider the birds a menace, others are a bit more welcoming to the new neighbors: They've taken to naming the birds and even feed them.

It's that feeding bit though that's complicating things.

Peacocks tend to be fearful of people unless there's food involved. And the extra food leads to extra babies.

And Texas A&M University professor Jessica Yorzinski says having their young around can make the birds more territorial: “Once they decide that a certain area is their home, they probably aren’t going to leave unless they’re forced out.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors county board of supervisors is now considering a ban on feeding peafowl.

They have several months to draft an ordinance for review — at which point mating season will already be over. Til then, here's your new alarm clock sound. Let us know how it goes ⏰