Start your day here: What the Texas abortion ruling means, the world's first malaria vaccine and more

Published October 7, 2021 at 8:05 AM EDT
A nurse takes a vaccine from a bottle to administrate it to a child at Ewim Polyclinic in Ghana on April 30, 2019.
Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images
A nurse takes a vaccine from a bottle to administrate it to a child at Ewim Polyclinic on April 30, 2019. The pilot program in Ghana helped provide data to the World Health Organization so that it could approve the vaccine more broadly.

Good morning,

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

Texas abortion ruling: A federal judge has temporarily blocked the state's restrictive abortion law, calling it an "offensive deprivation of such an important right." Here's what it that means for people there.

Malaria vaccine: The World Health Organization has approved the world's first malaria vaccine for widespread use, but it's far from perfect.

Auschwitz vandalism: Part of the Auschwitz memorial site has been vandalized with antisemitic graffiti; police are investigating the attack on an important marker of the Holocaust.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, a new study finds COVID-19 has robbed some 140,000 kids of at least one parent or caregiver.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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

Women Of History

Maya Angelou, Sally Ride and other trailblazing women will be featured on U.S. quarters

Posted October 7, 2021 at 11:32 AM EDT

Some U.S. coins will soon feature female trailblazers from different eras of American history, representing their accomplishments in fields spanning civil rights, politics, humanities and science.

The U.S. Mint is launching a four-year American Women Quarters Program, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year and will feature coins with tails honoring a diverse group of historical icons.

It will issue five quarters each year from 2022 to 2025, and unveiled the designs for the first batch on Wednesday. They recognize the achievements of poet Maya Angelou; astronaut Sally Ride; actress Anna May Wong; suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

“These inspiring coin designs tell the stories of five extraordinary women whose contributions are indelibly etched in American culture,” said United States Mint acting Director Alison L. Doone in a statement. “Generations to come will look at coins bearing these designs and be reminded of what can be accomplished with vision, determination and a desire to improve opportunities for all.”

The front of the coins will feature a portrait of George Washington, created by prolific 20th-century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser in honor of his 200th birthday (it was submitted as a candidate for the 1932 quarter, but ultimately passed over). They will be available for sale online starting next year.

Read on to learn more about these women and what their quarters will look like. (And while they’ll be faces on coins, you can guess what they’d say about women still making 82 cents for every dollar earned by men in the U.S.)

Maya Angelou: The late writer, performer and social activist already holds many distinctions. Among them: She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, won the Literarian Award (an honorary National Book Award), became the first Black woman (and second-ever poet) to write and present a poem at a presidential inauguration in 1992, held more than 30 honorary degrees and published more than 30 bestselling works.

Angelou's quarter will depict her with her arms uplifted, in front of a bird in flight and a rising sun. The Mint says those images are "inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived."

Sally Ride: The late astronaut, physicist and educator is best known as the first American woman — and youngest American — to travel to space. She dedicated the rest of her career to inspiring young people, particularly girls, in STEM. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, Aviation Hall of Fame and Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Her quarter design shows her next to a window on a space shuttle, which the Mint says is inspired by her quote “But when I wasn’t working, I was usually at a window looking down at Earth.”

Wilma Mankiller: Mankiller was the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1987, and is celebrated as an activist for Native American and women's rights. The Mint notes that during her two terms in office, she tripled her tribe's enrollment, doubled employment and built new housing, health centers and children's programs in northeast Oklahoma.

"Under her leadership, infant mortality declined and educational levels rose," it says. "Her leadership on social and financial issues made her tribe a national role model."

She's also a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and National Women's Hall of Fame inductee. Mankiller's coin shows her in profile, looking ahead with the wind in her back and wearing a traditional shawl. It also features the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation.

Nina Otero-Warren: Otero-Warren was a leading suffragist in New Mexico and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools. She championed the lobbying effort to ratify the 19th Amendment, and emphasized the importance of speaking Spanish in the suffrage fight in order to reach Hispanic women.

"Otero-Warren strove to improve education for all New Mexicans, working especially to advance bicultural education and to preserve cultural practices among the state’s Hispanic and Native American communities," the Mint says.

Her coin shows her clasping her hands and looking straight at the viewer, with the words "Voto Para La Mujer" and three Yucca flowers, New Mexico's state flower.

Anna May Wong: Wong was the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood, appearing in more than 60 movies and achieving international success in the face of racism and discrimination. Her coin shows her resting her head on her hand, surrounded by the round lights of a marquee sign.


Here's why the literature Nobel Prize winner is surprising in a good way

Posted October 7, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT

This year's Nobel Prize in literature has gone to Abdulrazak Gurnah, a Zanzibar-born novelist known for writing about colonialism and refugees, among other topics.

Gurnah's selection is significant, particularly considering the Nobel Committee's recent trend of awarding mostly white, Eurocentric and North American authors.

In its 120-year history, what is billed as the world's highest literature honor has only gone to writers from Africa five times, and only to women in 16 instances. It's been 35 years since the last Black writer from Africa won the award: Nigeria's Wole Soyinka in 1986.

The Swedish Academy said the recognition was well deserved for Gurnah’s "uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."

Gurnah is the author of 10 novels, including 1994's Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. NPR's Neda Ulabyreports his books are sometimes called "sprawling but intimate," and many critics say the award is deserved as well as overdue. The award comes with more than $1 million in prize money.

Here's Gurnah reading from his 2017 novel Gravel Heart. This is a section where the narrator is describing a photograph of his grandfather.

NPR - General 1 - 2021-10-07 at 10.06am.mp4

In a conversation on Morning Edition with A Martínez, Ulaby described how some areas are overrepresented among Nobel literature winners.

"More Austrians have won the literature Nobel in the past 20 years than anyone from the entire continent of Africa ... or from the Arab world, or from Central America," Ulaby noted. "No Black person has won a literature Nobel since Toni Morrison in 1993. And no one from any East Asian country except for China or Japan has ever won."

But is hasn't always been like this. Colombia's Gabriel García Márquez won in 1982 and Derek Walcott from Saint Lucia was awarded in 1992. Ulaby reports winners have turned more Eurocentric the last 20 years or so.

The Swedish Academy says it plans to begin diversifying laurate candidates starting next year, read more from NPR's Andrew Limbong on those plans here.


Residents of a Michigan city are told to rely on bottled water for safety reasons

Posted October 7, 2021 at 9:18 AM EDT

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is asking residents of Benton Harbor to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula for safety reasons.

Officials said in a Wednesday announcement that the move comes out of an abundance of caution, and is part of a "longer-term effort to eliminate exceedances of the federal lead standard, educate the community on the effects of lead in drinking water, remove lead service lines and increase confidence in filtered water from the tap."

Unfiltered tap water can still be used for showering, bathing, cleaning and washing hands, dishes and clothes, they added.

Benton Harbor, located about 50 miles southwest of Kalamazoo, is working with state and local entities to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water by replacing its lead service lines.

City residents have been dealing with dangerous lead contamination for at least the past three years. That's according to a 35-page petition submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency by a coalition of environmental and social justice groups last month, demanding the agency take "immediate action to address the public health emergency."

The petition notes that residents of Benton Harbor — a predominantly Black city with a population of less than 10,000 — are not only being subjected to high levels of lead exposure, "but also often lack access to high quality health care and are exposed to a wide array of other threats that can exacerbate the negative health effects associated with lead exposure."

Michigan Public has more on the petition.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in announcing the recommendation that "we've listened to the community's concerns."

State officials also said that the EPA is conducting a filter effectiveness study to "provide confidence in the effectiveness of water filters to reduce lead in drinking water," but did not specify when the study will completed.

In the meantime, they said, they are ramping up the availability of free bottled water and will provide it as long as needed.

More than 4,500 cases of bottled water have been provided to the city so far, and the state says another 15,500 cases will be delivered to distribution centers in the days ahead.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said on Twitter that the city aims to pass out 150,000 water bottles to residents by Friday. Residents can pick up bottles at specific locations or call the county health department to schedule drop-offs.

Breaking News

Pfizer officially asks the FDA to authorize its COVID vaccine for kids aged 5-11

Posted October 7, 2021 at 8:56 AM EDT
Safeway pharmacist Ashley McGee fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination at a vaccination booster shot clinic on October 01, 2021 in San Rafael, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Safeway pharmacist Ashley McGee fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination at a vaccination booster shot clinic on October 01, 2021 in San Rafael, California.

Pfizer and BioNTech are officially asking the Biden administration to authorize the use of their COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

Pfizer tweeted on Thursday that the companies had submitted their formal request for Emergency Use Authorization of the vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration.

"With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against #COVID19," the pharmaceutical giant said.

Currently, the vaccine is only in use in the U.S. for people ages 12 and older.


Boston opts to celebrate Indigenous people instead of Columbus

Posted October 7, 2021 at 8:41 AM EDT

The city of Boston, located on the traditional land of the Massachusett Tribe, will now celebrate Indigenous people in October instead of Christopher Columbus.

The city's acting Mayor Kim Janey signed an executive order Wednesday changing the second Monday in October to Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.

The executive order recognized the Massachusett Tribe as the original inhabitants of Boston and the continued caretakers of the land. The order continued:

"Whereas, the cultures of Indigenous Peoples are worthy of being promoted, their histories and futures are rich, diverse and worthy of celebration, and the actions and policies of European colonizers including in the city of Boston actively destroyed and suppressed parts of those cultures;"
Executive order establishing Indigenous Peoples Day in Boston

The order replaces Columbus Day, which Massachusetts state law designates as a holiday so that, "... the memory of the courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, may be perpetuated."

Many Native people have long criticized Columbus Day for historical inaccuracy and for erasing the history of Indigenous civilizations that thrived in America before Columbus arrived.

“For far too long, the indigenous history of this place has been obscured, and frequently erased, by the histories, myths, and priorities of the dominant culture," Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag said of the change. "We are happy to see the City of Boston take the important step of recognizing and celebrating Indigenous peoples in Boston, the Americas, and around the world."

The city of Boston said the signingwas the result of efforts from the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), and members of the Massachusett Tribe. The order also designates an internal working group to work with Indigenous leaders on proposals to better honor the city's historical obligations to Indigenous people.

As NPR Member station WBUR reports, the change to Indigenous Peoples' Day had been gathering support from various groups around the city.

Boston joins a growing number of cities and states in choosing to forgo Columbus Day.


Authorities are investigating antisemitic graffiti found on Auschwitz barracks

Posted October 7, 2021 at 8:27 AM EDT
A person stands next to a barbed wire fence blocking off a row of of brown barracks with red roofs, against bare trees and a light blue sky.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Getty Images Europe
A visitor walks among barbed wire and prison barracks at the former Auschwitz I concentration camp on Jan. 26, 2020, in Oswiecim, Poland.

Polish police are investigating vandalism at the site of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the largest of the WWII-era Nazi extermination camps.

Auschwitz Memorial officials said spray-painted inscriptions in both English and German were found on nine wooden barracks on the property on Tuesday, and called some of them "antisemitic in nature."

They pointed specifically to two references to the Old Testament "often used by antisemites," as well as "denial slogans."

The case has been reported to police, and surveillance video is being analyzed. Museum officials say that the traces of vandalism will be removed as soon as police have finished their documentation, and are asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident to report information to a specific email address.

They called the incident not just an offense against the memorial, but "an outrageous attack on the symbol of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and an extremely painful blow to the memory of all the victims of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp."

Some 1.1 million of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz — including 960,000 Jews — died at the camp between 1940 and 1945, many systematically murdered in its gas chambers.

The site is now a museum dedicated to "recalling the evil that humans are capable of inflicting on each other," as NPR's Rob Schmitz put it this must-read story about Auschwitz survivors sharing their experiences in the name of Holocaust education.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem — Israel's official memorial to victims of the Holocaust — described the vandalism as an attack on the memory of victims, survivors and "any person with a conscience."

"It is also yet another painful reminder that more must be done to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to educate the public and the younger generation regarding the dangers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion," Dayan added.


What the judge said in the Texas abortion ruling and what it means

Posted October 7, 2021 at 7:54 AM EDT

A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Texas' controversial new abortion law, granting an emergency request from the Justice Department as its lawsuit plays out in court.

The law bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many even know they’re pregnant. The Justice Department has called the legislation unconstitutional.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson explained the ruling on Morning Edition:

What the judge said

Judge Robert Pitman said Texas concocted an "unprecedented scheme" to block most abortions in the country's second largest state.

He said the state intentionally designed the law with the public as its enforcers, to make it hard for federal courts to review any legal challenges.

He found the Justice Department had the right to sue because some of its federal employees and agencies could be exposed to liability under the Texas law and because the federal government was fighting to vindicate people's fundamental constitutional rights.

Key quote from the ruling: "This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right." Read the full ruling.

What it means

The judge issued a preliminary injunction, meaning no civil lawsuits can be filed, accepted or ruled on by state court clerks or judges while litigation in the case continues.

The Texas Attorney General's Office has already filed a notice of appeal in the case.

Abortions might not instantly resume in the state because many doctors fear they could be sued unless the case is permanently resolved. Whole Woman's Health, an abortion provider and advocacy group, says it's working with staff and doctors to resume providing the "full scope of abortion care as soon as possible," but it tweeted that "there's a long road ahead."

In the end, it’s very likely the case will end up with the Supreme Court.

Global health

A malaria vaccine gets widespread approval for the first time. Here are the basics

Posted October 7, 2021 at 7:46 AM EDT
An overhead view of two people holding vaccine vials and pieces of paper on a tray, with syringes and "safety boxes" on the table next to it.
Jerome Delay/AP
Health officials prepare to vaccinate young children against malaria as part of a pilot program, in the Malawi village of Migowi on Dec. 10, 2019.

The World Health Organization has given a green light to the first malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S. It's a historic moment for public health, though questions remain about implementation of the shot, and it's far from a silver bullet.

NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien has the details. Read his story or hear him onMorning Edition. Here are the basics:

Why now?

Scientists with GlaxoSmithKline created RTS,S back in 1987, and have spent the intervening decades getting it to the point where it can be broadly deployed. Malaria is caused by parasites, which are much more complex organisms than viruses or the single-cell bacteria that other vaccines are designed to target.

RTS,S actually won regulatory approval from the Europeans Medicines Agency back in 2015. But the WHO wanted to wait to recommend the vaccine for widespread use until after a large-scale pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. That program found it safe and reasonably effective in blocking infections in kids, cutting malaria cases by 40% and reducing hospitalizations by nearly a third.

Malaria is still a big problem

Nearly 95% of all malaria cases globally occur in Africa.

The vaccine is expected to be used primarily in sub-Saharan Africa — where the mosquito-borne disease claims hundreds of thousands of lives annually — and could be deployed as early as next year.

"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering," said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa. "Now for the first time ever, we have a [malaria] vaccine recommended for widespread use. Today's recommendation, therefore, offers a glimmer of hope for the continent."

It won't fix everything

Officials are quick to warn that the vaccine is not a silver bullet. It's only about 30% effective in preventing hospitalizations and 40% effective in preventing infections.

It's also not easy to administer: It has to be given to infants in four injections, spread out over the course of 13 months. Plus, it's not yet clear where the funding for vaccination campaigns will come from, especially when it comes to the investment required to scale up and meet demand.

Given how many kids get sick with the disease each year, however, widespread use — especially in combination with bed nets, spraying for mosquitoes and other new drugs — the vaccine could prevent hundreds of thousands of cases.