Start Your Day Here: Data On Kids' Vaccines And More

Published September 28, 2021 at 7:32 AM EDT
Taliban fighters patrol an area during a march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University in Afghanistan on Sept. 11.
Bernat Armangue/AP
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AP
Taliban fighters patrol an area during a march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University in Afghanistan on Sept. 11.

Good morning,

Here are some of the top stories we're following today:

Vaccines for kids: Pfizer and BioNTech submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration that shows "favorable" safety outcomes for kids ages 5 to 11 who receive the companies' COVID-19 vaccine. Here's more on the promising results.

Afghanistan hearing: Top Pentagon officials are testifying about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in a Senate Armed Services hearing today. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are expected to raise concerns.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly has been convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering. Here's what kind of prison sentence he's facing.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Dana Farrington, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)

Just In
Law

Capital Gazette Shooter Sentenced To Life In Prison Without Parole

Posted September 28, 2021 at 11:11 AM EDT

The gunman who killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper has received five life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Jarrod Ramos attacked the newsroom in Annapolis, Md., in 2018.

Read more about the case and today's sentencing hearing here.

Ramos, 41, pleaded guilty to 23 criminal counts — including five charges of first-degree murder — in October 2019, but his attorneys argued that Ramos could not be held responsible due to mental illness, saying that at the time, he didn't understand the criminality of what he was doing.

A jury rejected that insanity plea.

Consumer Safety

Thousands Of Pounds Of DiGiorno Frozen Pizzas Have Been Recalled Over Allergy Concerns

Posted September 28, 2021 at 10:59 AM EDT
The front of a black box of frozen pizza labeled "DiGiorno pepperoni crispy pan," with an image of a pepperoni pizza.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety And Inspection Service
Nestlé USA, Inc. is recalling thousands of pounds of DiGiorno Crispy Pan Crust Pepperoni Pizza over potential mislabeling and an undeclared allergen.

It's not delivery, it's a recall. The frozen pizza brand known for its declarative slogan is recalling thousands of pounds of pies due to "misbranding and undeclared allergens," according to federal officials.

Nestlé USA Inc. is recalling some 27,872 pounds of frozen DiGiorno Crispy Pan Crust pepperoni pizza, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Sunday.

What the problem is

The FSIS says the frozen pepperoni pizza product carton may actually contain frozen three-meat pizza, which is made with textured soy protein — a known allergen that is not reflected in the label.

"People who are allergic to soy could have an allergic reaction and should not consume the product," Nestlé said in a statement.

The batch in question was produced on June 30 of this year, and shipped to stores and distribution centers across the country. Nestlé was alerted to the problem after a consumer complained that a box labeled as pepperoni pizza actually contained a three-meat pizza.

What you should do about it

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the pizzas, and the FSIS advises anyone concerned about an injury or illness to contact their health care provider.

It's also asking consumers to check their freezers for these particular boxes, and either throw them out or return them to their place of purchase.

Here's what you should look for: A 26-oz. carton of "DiGiorno Pepperoni Crispy Pan Crust," with the lot code 1181510721 and a "best buy" date of MAR2022 on the side of the package. The outside of the box looks like this.

Nestlé says no other DiGiorno products are impacted by the recall, and has apologized for any inconveniences it may have caused its consumers and retail customers.

Coronavirus

As Mandate Hits, New York Sees An Uptick In COVID Vaccinations Among Heath Care Workers

Posted September 28, 2021 at 10:23 AM EDT

As the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, some health care workers in New York became at risk of losing their jobs because they weren't vaccinated against COVID-19.

In July, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued one of the country's most aggressive vaccine mandates, requiring all patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals to get vaccinated. The order was later expanded to cover non-state run facilities as well, and also applies to facilities and food-service workers who interact with patients.

Hospital and nursing home staff had to have at least one dose by Monday, and the state doesn't allow frequent testing as an alternative like it does for some other industries.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul offered updated numbers via Twitter.

As the deadline approached, the health care vaccination numbers out of New York ticked up. Last week, some hospitals in the state reported barely over half their staff were fully vaccinated.

It's not yet clear how many workers resigned or will be fired for noncompliance with the mandate. What is clear: Unvaccinated staff leaving health care could worsen staffing shortages some New York hospitals are already facing.

In response, Gov. Hochul signed an executive order to alleviate potential staffing shortages. The order expands the eligible health care workforce and also broadens who is able to administer COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

The plan also outlines the creation of a 24/7 Operations Center, which the governor's office reports will monitor staffing trends statewide, and "help troubleshoot acute situations with providers as necessary."

Some hospitals in the state were already facing care disruptions before the mandate's deadline. Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, N.Y., announced earlier this month that it had been forced to pause maternity services after 30 people onstaff quit rather than get vaccinated.

The state has said workers who are terminated because they refuse to be vaccinated won't be eligible for unemployment insurance, unless they have a legitimate doctor-approved request for a medical accommodation.

Although this mandate is controversial, requiring medical professionals to be vaccinated against common illnesses isn't unprecedented.

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, told Morning Edition that vaccine mandates are just part of the job for health care professionals. You can listen to the full conversation here.

"At the end of the day, we as a society, and certainly institutions, need to say, what is it that we stand for? And how can we best serve in this time of a global pandemic?"
Dr. Leana Wen

For Gov. Hochul, the mandate is a prerequisite for patients to feel safe in hospitals during the pandemic.

"They have a right to be treated by someone who will not make them get sicker," she said during a press briefing shortly before the deadline.

Hochul noted breakthrough infections do occur in vaccinated people, although rarely, but said the vaccine requirement was all about reducing risk.

"We've been through too much together. We don't want to take risks. We just want to do what's right."

Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says NBA Players Should Get Vaccinated Or Be Kicked Off The Team

Posted September 28, 2021 at 9:39 AM EDT
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looks on during the game between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum on October 26, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looks on during the game between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum on October 26, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a message for professional basketball players who are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine: Get the shot or get off the squad.

“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an article published inRolling Stone on Saturday.

“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research,” the NBA Hall of Famer added.

Abdul-Jabbar’s comments come a few weeks before the 2021-2022 NBA season is set to begin, without a vaccine mandate for players.

Instead, the league will require unvaccinated players to submit to regular testing — once on practice or travel days and at least once on game days, according to the Associated Press. Fully vaccinated athletes won’t need to get tested regularly.

Several top NBA players have either said in recent days that they won’t get vaccinated against the coronavirus or are refusingto publiclydisclose their vaccination status, raising questions about whether the league will be able to return to normalcy as the virus continues to circulate throughout the U.S.

Last year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA sequestered players and workers in a “bubble” for the entire 2019-2020 season, isolating them from anyone not connected to the league. The novel experiment ended with no players, coaches or staff members testing positive for COVID-19 all season.

About 90% of NBA players are currently vaccinated, according to several media outlets.

International

Nearly 40 Workers Have Escaped From A Canadian Mine After A 10-Hour Vertical Climb

Posted September 28, 2021 at 9:16 AM EDT

Dozens of workers trapped in a Canadian mine are in the process of making a dramatic escape that involves climbing vertically for up to 10 hours.

Thirty nine employees at the Totten mine in northern Ontario were trapped underground on Sunday when its elevator system was damaged, according to Brazilian mining company Vale.

The workers stayed in underground "refuge stations" with a significant supply of water and received deliveries of food and medication from rescue teams, according to the United Steelworkers union, whose Local 6500 chapter represents 30 of the 39 miners.

Rescue crews started moving them up via a "secondary egress ladder system" on Monday, a process that involves a long climb up a series of steep ladders.

The exhausted miners, who had been in the mineshaft for more than a day when the rescue mission started, are wearing harnesses as they make the 0.6-mile ascent, according to the BBC.

Shawn Rideout, the chief mine rescue officer at Ontario Mine Rescue, said the climb could take up to 10 hours to complete and that there are rest stops every 100 meters (or about 330 feet) if workers need a break.

Citing Ontario Mine Rescue, the CBC reports that some workers unable to complete the climb may be "hoisted out using ropes."

The first 33 miners had reached the surface as of mid Tuesday morning, per the CBC, and responders expect to get the rest out by 11 a.m. ET.

"It's been a challenge for us, but at the same time it's been incredible to see the teamwork," said Vale spokesperson Danica Pagnutti. "All our employees and mine rescue pull together for these employees to support them in their safe return."

Coronavirus

Pfizer Submits Favorable Initial Data To The FDA On Kids' COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

Posted September 28, 2021 at 8:57 AM EDT
A health care worker wearing blue gloves fills a syringe with an upside-down vial of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
A health care worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in Los Angeles, California on August 7.

Pfizer and BioNTech are another step closer to seeking authorization for young children to receive the COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine, submitting data to the Food and Drug Administration that shows a "robust" antibody response and "favorable" safety outcomes in kids ages five to 11 who received the two-dose regimen in clinical trials.

The companies plan to submit a formal request for emergency use authorization of the vaccine for that age range "in the coming weeks," they said today.

News of the data submission comes a week after Pfizer announced promising results from the trials, which have been closely watched by parents eager to protect their children from the coronavirus. COVID-19 has now killed more than 690,000 people in the U.S., with millions more sickened by the disease.

The trial, one of several the companies are conducting for children in three different age groups, included 2,268 participants.

Children received two vaccine doses of 10 micrograms — notably smaller than the pair of 30-microgram doses used in an earlier successful trial, for people 16 to 25 years old. The smaller vaccine dose "was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity," the companies said.

The results of the two trials are comparable, the companies said as they announced the data submission to the FDA.

In a separate clinical trial for kids younger than 5, participants are receiving 3-microgram doses of the vaccine. The pharmaceutical companies expect to have results of trials for kids from 6 months up to 2 years old and from ages 2 to 5 "as soon as the fourth quarter of this year."

Business

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo Calls For Countering China’s Economic Influence

Posted September 28, 2021 at 8:38 AM EDT
A woman wearing a hot pink suit jacket and a blue face mask under her chin is looking off camera, against a blurry background with lights.
Oliver Contreras/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, pictured testifying on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is outlining her economic agenda ina speech to business leaders from the Economic Club today in Washington, D.C.

She previewed some of that agenda in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. Listen to that interview here and read the highlights below:

The need to hold China accountable

Chief among Raimondo's concerns is countering China’s economic influence and addressing longstanding U.S. complaints about the Chinese government’s treatment of U.S. companies.

“Chinese airlines have purchases for tens of millions of dollars of Boeing airplanes, and the Chinese government is holding that up,” Raimondo tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “They are not respecting intellectual property and stealing IP of American companies. They're putting up all kinds of different barriers for American companies to do business in China.”

She also says the U.S. needs to counter China for human rights reasons. China is holding 1.5 million people from the ethnic minority Uyghur group in internment camps and has effectively created a high tech surveillance state in certain areas of high Uyghur concentrations.

Boosting domestic manufacturing to compete globally

Raimondo is also pushing for more investment in U.S. manufacturing, which has fallen as companies moved jobs abroad starting decades ago. She wants more attention on shoring up supply chains that were shown to be vulnerable during the pandemic.

Her spotlight is on semiconductors specifically, which are today mostly made in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan. The U.S. makes 12%. Semiconductor chips are needed for smartphones and many other electronic devices to work.

“Once upon a time, America led the world in semiconductor manufacturing,” Raimondo told NPR. “In search of cheap labor, we have lost that lead. So we need to invest in America, incentivize companies to manufacture chips in America, have a trained workforce, shoring up domestic supply chains, domestic manufacturing here. That is what is critical. That is how we're going to compete globally.”

The impact of family leave policies

Raimondo also said more liberal child and dependent caregiver policies would make the U.S. more competitive economically.

“You cannot be competitive if women can't productively engage in the workforce because they don't have access to child care or care for their elderly loved ones,” she said. “We can't compete globally if we're the only industrialized nation without paid family leave, which severely underpins our workers’ productivity.”

Politics

Lawmakers Want Answers About Afghanistan. Today, Defense Officials Take Their Questions

Posted September 28, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT

Top Pentagon officials are testifying about the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan for the first time this morning.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie are speaking at a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the committee, has requested information on military equipment left in Afghanistan, the number of people evacuated and intelligence on the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal has critics on both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers are looking for accountability, especially after an attack near the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members alongside Afghan civilians in August.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. ET and will be livestreamed on NPR.org.

Law

Families Of Capital Gazette Shooting Victims Will Speak At The Gunman's Sentencing

Posted September 28, 2021 at 8:20 AM EDT
Five white crosses with names on them are planted in the grass, each bearing a wooden red heart and covered in bouquets of flowers.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
A makeshift memorial outside of the Annapolis Capitol Gazette in Annapolis, Md., pictured in 2018.

The gunman who killed five employees in Maryland's Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018 is expected to receive a lengthy prison sentence today.

In July, a jury found Jarrod Ramos criminally responsible for the attack, which killed Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Prosecutors have sought five life sentences without the possibility of parole, and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs is expected to announce a sentence of life in prison.

Read more from NPR's Bill Chappell about how the case has unfolded and what it means to survivors.

Today's sentencing hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. ET.

Many of the families of those killed in the attack are expected to return to the Annapolis courtroom, the Washington Postreports.

According to Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, at least a dozen people are expected to speak in court on behalf of the victims. Her office already submitted 17 victim impact statements to the judge, 11 of which were written by victims' family members and attack survivors.

To hear from the survivors directly about their experiences in the aftermath, check out NPR's powerful podcast series Embedded: The Capital Gazette.

Afghanistan

Chancellor Of Kabul University Says For Now, Women Won’t Be Allowed To Attend

Posted September 28, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
Men walk outdoors in front of tall flagpoles bearing white flags.
Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Taliban fighters walk as Taliban flags flies on poles along a street in Kabul on Sunday.

Editor’s note on Oct. 1: This story and headline attributed comments made on Twitter to the new head of Kabul University. The account cited in the story has since tweeted that it does not belong to the chancellor, but instead is a student at the university. NPR is working to clarify the details and will update the story here.

The new Taliban-appointed head of Kabul University says that women won’t be allowed to matriculate or work outside the home “as long as [a] real Islamic environment is not provided for all.”

In a tweet, Chancellor Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat wrote that “women will not be allowed to come to universities or work” until the proper conditions are met.

Later, Ghairat sent another tweet seeking to clarify his remarks, saying that he had been misquoted by The New York Times: “I haven't said that we will never allow women to attend universities or go to work, I meant that until we create an Islamic environment, women will have to stay at home.”

The chancellor’s remarks suggest that the Taliban, who seized power in Kabul in August, have changed little since the hardline Islamist movement last ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, when women and girls were barred from attending schools and universities.

However, Ghairat’s tweets appear to contradict a statement earlier this month by the newly appointed Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani, who said that women would be allowed to study at Afghan universities as long as they are segregated by gender.

The new university chancellor has been active on Twitter since his appointment a few weeks ago, promoting the school’s desire to “appoint more pro-Muslim scholars” and fending off harsh criticism over his scant academic qualifications for the post.

He has also publicly disapproved of the way education in Afghanistan was handled previously, tweeting that “Instead of producing scientific and religious knowledge, the centers were turned into centers of prostitution and moral corruption.”

The teachers’ union of Afghanistan last week sent a letter to the government demanding Ghairat’s appointment be rescinded, in what TheNew York Times described as a “symbolic act of resistance."

Amtrak Derailment

Amtrak Derailment Updates: Montana's Hospitals Were Already Strained By COVID-19

Posted September 28, 2021 at 7:39 AM EDT
Silver train cars, one upright and one turned on its side, are stopped in a grassy field. Other vehicles and people wearing neon vests stand nearby, with fields and a hazy sky in the distance.
Ted S. Warren/AP
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AP
Workers on Monday stood near train tracks next to overturned cars from the Amtrak train that derailed near Joplin, Mont.

Federal authorities say it will be a month before they have a preliminary report on what caused Saturday's deadly Amtrak derailment in rural Montana.

"Generally it’s going to be something that some person did or didn’t do. And so it takes us a while to go ahead and walk that backwards," Bruce Landsberg with the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters yesterday.

🎧 Montana Public Radio's Shaylee Ragar walks us through what we know so far:

  • Eight out of 10 cars on the train derailed.
  • The train, which was heading from Chicago to Seattle, was traveling within the posted speed limit of 79 miles per hour at the time of the incident.
  • The tracks had last been inspected two days earlier, and a freight train passed over them 80 minutes before the crash without any problems.
  • The derailment appears to have happened ahead of a switch in the tracks, which investigators say could have been a factor.
  • The train was carrying 141 passengers and 16 crew members. Three passengers died, and seven were admitted to Montana hospitals.

Montana's hospitals were already feeling the strain of the latest COVID-19 surge, Ragar notes.
Tressa Keller with Logan Health works at the hospital in Shelby, about 50 miles west of the derailment site — it's a 21-bed critical access hospital that cared for 20 injured passengers. It got help from three other Logan Health hospitals, which sent over resources and staff.

“We definitely know that many hospitals are experiencing capacity challenges during this time," Keller said. "So in this situation when we were able to collaborate with many other facilities, that definitely made a difference.”

Voting

California Just Made Vote-By-Mail Ballots Permanent

Posted September 28, 2021 at 7:30 AM EDT
A person wearing blue latex gloves and a silver watch sorts through a box of white envelopes.
Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Election workers handle mail-in ballots at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders' mail-in ballot processing center in Pomona, Calif., in October 2020.

California will send a vote-by-mail ballot to every active registered voter in the state for future elections, in a move its governor says will "increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters."

Gov. Gavin Newsom — who recently survived a recall election himself — signed a package of legislation on Monday related to election integrity, campaign contributions and voter access.

One of those laws, Assembly Bill 37, permanently requires vote-by-mail ballots be sent to the state's active registered voters at least 29 days ahead of each election. Voters can still choose to vote in person or return their ballots to county drop boxes.

"Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station," Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber said in a statement. "And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

California first started sending vote-by-mail ballots to its registered voters in 2020 because of the pandemic, and extended that policy through 2021.

Officials said it resulted in record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said State Assemblymember Marc Berman, who authored the bill. "We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president."

Member station KQED reports that the new law will see counties mailing ballots to an estimated 2.3 million additional registered voters (who had not previously opted to vote by mail), with a price tag of about $4 million for printing and mailing.

It also points to a recent study from the Public Policy Institute of California that found that mailing voters a ballot by default was "the most effective prescription for boosting voter participation."

Officials also noted that California is taking steps to increase access to the polls at a time when many Republican-led states are pursuing legislation that would make it harder to vote.

This NPR map shows which states are expanding and restricting voter access.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said.

California is the eighth and largest state to make universal vote-by-mail ballots permanent, Reuters reports.