AstraZeneca Vaccine, Amazon Workers Reject Union, Chauvin Trial Update : Up First Concerns about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have countries reconsidering its use. In Alabama, Amazon warehouse workers voted against unionizing. The medical examiner testified this week about ruling George Floyd's death a homicide.

AstraZeneca Vaccine, Amazon Workers Reject Union, Chauvin Trial Update

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With too few coronavirus shots to go around, much of the world has been counting on AstraZeneca to manufacture more doses than anyone else this year.


But new studies are giving some countries pause.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Labor organizers in Alabama have lost the battle to unionize warehouse workers at Amazon. The vote that amounts to a major win for the retail giant was not even a close one.

SIMON: And in Minneapolis, a medical examiner testifies that Derek Chauvin's use of force was more than what George Floyd could take.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The prosecution is trying to prove that the former police officer's actions caused Floyd's death. Stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Australia and Greece are the latest countries to recommend alternatives to the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for young people after researchers found more rare but potentially fatal blood clots linked to the vaccine.

SIMON: European officials have identified roughly 200 clots among 25 million people who received AstraZeneca shots in Europe and the U.K.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Jason Beaubien has been following the story, and he joins us now for an update. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jason, some of the new research was published just yesterday. What does it say?

BEAUBIEN: Well, we still don't know exactly what's happening in these patients. The papers in The New England Journal of Medicine - they look at 16 cases in Norway, Germany and Austria, and here's what they found. The symptoms begin about a week to 14 days after the immunization. The patients started out with these really severe headaches, muscle aches, swelling. Nine of the 16 died, and most of them were young women in their 20s and 30s.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yikes. Do we know why?

BEAUBIEN: At this point, it's too early to tell why this predominance among women. It may be due to the fact that Norway was using AstraZeneca for health care workers, who lean toward, you know, predominantly women, and using Pfizer to vaccinate its older population. So that might have skewed things a bit. You know, initially, European regulators said the rates of this clotting disorder were no higher than what you'd see in the general population, but they've changed that. Now they're saying, yes, it does appear that in roughly one in 100,000 people vaccinated with AstraZeneca - this serious side effect could occur.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should note that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not authorized yet here in the United States.

BEAUBIEN: Correct.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But are other countries with this new information still going to use it?

BEAUBIEN: Well, some are switching how they're using it. They're offering alternatives to the younger people and trying to use AstraZeneca more with older groups, but many countries really don't have a choice. AstraZeneca is the vaccine much of the world is banking on. The expectation is that 3 billion doses of it are going to be distributed in 2021. You know, that's more than any other vaccine. Yesterday, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed that the number of vaccine-related clots is incredibly small compared to the nearly 3 million people who've already died from COVID.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: All vaccines and medicines carry a risk of side effects. In this case, the risks of severe disease and deaths from COVID-19 are many times higher than the very small risks related to the vaccine.

BEAUBIEN: But, you know, this really is a public relations problem at the moment. I was talking to a doctor in Gambia, and he was saying AstraZeneca is the only vaccine being offered in his West African nation. And many people, particularly young people, are citing the clotting news out of Europe as a reason not to get vaccinated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how does the World Health Organization address those concerns?

BEAUBIEN: You know, I ran this by Saad Omer, who runs the Institute for Global Health at Yale. He says this whole incident and the amount of attention these few dozen cases of blood clots are getting should actually be comforting to the public. He says it shows that the vaccine monitoring systems are working.

SAAD OMER: People should be reassured that there are entities and individuals and bodies and scientists looking at this stuff aggressively and proactively.

BEAUBIEN: You know, when you're setting out to vaccinate billions of people around the globe, you are going to get some adverse reactions, but Omer says, you know, this is good that researchers in Europe identified this quickly. They're looking for solutions. And, hopefully, public health officials will be able to tailor the distribution of this vaccine in a way that will minimize these rare side effects as much as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien. Thank you very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., have voted against unionizing, defeating the hopes of labor organizers that this would be Amazon's first unionized workplace in the United States.

SIMON: Would have been a rare victory in the traditionally anti-union South, but workers voted overwhelmingly against unionization by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here to talk to us about that is Stephan Bisaha. He is with our member station WBHM in Birmingham. Hello.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was this outcome a surprise?

BISAHA: Well, for a lot of people here, yes. There was a lot of excitement, a real sense the union had a chance. Now, Bessemer, where this warehouse is located, is about 20 minutes outside of Birmingham, surrounded by trees and really not much else. And on that drive there from Birmingham, you see lots of pro-union signs. There have been lots of rallies here with big headline names like actor Danny Glover, Bernie Sanders coming through, a congressional delegation. But out of the 6,000 workers that actually work at this warehouse, very few were showing up at these rallies. Mostly, it's been crowds with out-of-state organizers for the unions or locals in Alabama Democrat shirts and not many people actually working for Amazon. So really, we didn't know what most workers were thinking until the actual vote count this week, where they delivered a definitive no.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, so much attention has been sort of lavished on this vote. How has the mood changed after?

BISAHA: Well, it was a pretty crushing defeat, more than 2 to 1 against the union. And the union tried to keep up a brave face. During a Zoom press conference on Friday after the results, organizers and a couple of workers spoke, including Emmit Ashford (ph), who works at the Amazon warehouse there. He sent a message to workers telling them to not get discouraged.


EMMIT ASHFORD: The floodgates have been opened, and we cannot stop it. So I hope everybody has a good day. This news has not discouraged us, and we are holding our heads high, marching forward. And we will get what we deserve.

BISAHA: The truth is this was always an uphill battle. I talked to people who have experience organizing unions, and they said it's just really hard to do this in the South but especially hard to do this going up against Amazon with all its resources, capable of running a strong anti-union campaign.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there's been a lot of discussion about their tactics. I mean, we've heard about some tough work conditions at Amazon - you know, long hours, demanding quotas, very strict breaks, even for using the bathroom. So what was the argument there against unionizing?

BISAHA: The big thing is pay. Amazon pays $15 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage, so if you compare that to other warehouses, there are other warehouses that pay more. Compared to manufacturing, it's less. But workers here are comparing it to other jobs available to them in Alabama, and they're not seeing other places offer them $15 an hour. Jerry Mitchell is the president of the Alabama Black Chamber of Commerce.

JERRY MITCHELL: You know, in Alabama, we're in dire need of better-paying jobs all around. You know, you have a state where we didn't want to expand Medicare, Medicaid. So you know, if you can get a job that's providing you a livable wage and some health benefits, then that's definitely a plus.

BISAHA: And he says some workers in the state are willing to look the other way on some tough work conditions if they're afraid of losing that relatively high-paying job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Stephan Bisaha from member station WBHM in Birmingham. Thank you very much.

BISAHA: Thank you.


SIMON: In Minneapolis, another week of testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This week featured medical experts, the county medical examiner and a lung specialist and a closer look at the precise cause of Floyd's death.

SIMON: Following the trial for us has been NPR's law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste. Martin, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: The first week, of course, introduced the jury to the video that's become seen around the world. And it's so difficult to look at George Floyd - first appearing at Cup Foods all the way down to when he was handcuffed, face down on the street and then under Derek Chauvin's knee for more than nine minutes. How did this week compare?

KASTE: Well, this week was more about the analysis of what happened, first from the point of view of the rules that govern how police may use force and then from the point of view of medical science. The culmination of the week may have been yesterday afternoon, when the Hennepin County medical examiner, Andrew Baker, restated his official finding that Floyd's death was homicide - that is, a death caused by another person. And in this case, Baker said Floyd's underlying heart disease contributed to the death, but the cause was the way the police held him down.


ANDREW BAKER: Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline, and what that adrenaline is going to do is it's going to ask your heart to beat faster. It's going to ask your body for more oxygen so that you can get through that altercation. And in my opinion, the law enforcement subdual restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take.

SIMON: Martin, why was it so vital for the prosecution to have the medical examiner say that?

KASTE: Well, it's because the defense has really been playing up the contributing factors aspect here, talking about Floyd's drug use, his heart disease, trying to show that Chauvin's knee maybe wasn't directly on Floyd's neck the whole time. And the prosecution is saying, yeah, this death is physiologically complicated, but the actions of Chauvin and the other police are what started that chain of events. You probably know that I cover policing, and what I'm struck by this last week or so is how many people in law enforcement have contacted me say that they're really watching this trial and really interested in this testimony. Earlier this week, I talked to Joe Giacalone, who's a retired NYPD detective sergeant who now teaches future cops.

JOE GIACALONE: I teach a use-of-force class at John Jay College. And I think this is going to be a centerpiece of that course going forward.

SIMON: Martin, what do you think many police departments might be learning from this trial?

KASTE: Well, take the issue of positional asphyxia, the idea that someone could asphyxiate just by being face down with their hands cuffed behind their back. This danger is accepted by a lot of police and trainers, but it's not a universal acceptance. Some trainers resist the idea based on a few laboratory tests that have been done where people have been held in that position, and they've seemed to be fine. I remember right after Floyd's death, a police trainer told me he thought positional asphyxia was a myth. But in this trial, there was a lot of attack by experts on the idea that this is a myth. Listen to forensic pathologist Lindsey Thomas yesterday talking about those lab tests and saying that the youngish, sort of healthy people in those studies don't have any bearing on the real experience of being cuffed on the street.


LINDSEY THOMAS: They were being monitored the whole time. And if, at any point, they had had significant respiratory or cardiac difficulties, the study would have stopped. And the person volunteering knew that. So to me, it just - it bears no resemblance to what Mr. Floyd experienced.

SIMON: Martin, what about the belief that's common among some police officers - and it's come up during the trial - that a person who can talk should also be able to breathe?

KASTE: That's a big one. Several retired cops I've talked to told me that that's what they were taught, at least a couple of decades ago. And some police officers may still be learning this idea that if you're speaking that you can breathe. But in the trial on Thursday, a top pulmonologist spent a good part of the morning just demolishing that idea, just talking about the physiology of breathing and explaining how someone who's asphyxiating can still muster enough of a shallow breath to say, I can't breathe before he dies. So that's come as a shock to a lot of police who want to do the right thing and relied on that sort of mantra. And now it's being exposed as being quite dangerous. And they're talking about this. I know that. And no matter how this trial ends up, I think that this kind of testimony may have an effect on how a lot of them go about their business.

SIMON: NPR's law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste, thanks so much.

KASTE: You're welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, April 10, 2021. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your week. You can follow us on social media. We are @UpFirst on Twitter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And for more news and interviews, books and music and fun, you can find us on the radio.

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