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Howard University’s Marching Band To Perform During Inauguration

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Howard University’s Marching Band To Perform During Inauguration

Howard University’s Showtime Marching Band will be part of the inaugural activities. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a Howard graduate, often included drum lines in her campaign events.


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was on the campaign trail in 2019, she loved entering events with the energy of a drum line.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM LINE DRUMMING)

SHAPIRO: That was in South Carolina in June of 2019. And here she is with another in Las Vegas later that same year.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM LINE DRUMMING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Kamala. Kamala. Kamala.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Harris is a proud graduate of Howard University, home of the Showtime Marching Band. And tomorrow, shortly after Harris takes the oath of office, she’ll be joined by the band’s drum line to kick off the virtual inaugural parade called Parade Across America.

SHAPIRO: Kelvin Washington is the band’s director. And he says that after Harris was named to the Democratic ticket last August, the band began planning their performance. Except back then, they didn’t know if she would be the vice president sworn in in January.

KELVIN WASHINGTON: We had nothing but time. We was online. And we were like, you know, if by chance this happens, this is going to be our one shot. This year, they have, you know, the program face-to-face.

KELLY: So they began prepping. Washington handed out music before Thanksgiving break for the students to memorize. And by January, they were ready to be called up on short notice.

SHAPIRO: On top of that, they had to adapt to the coronavirus. Washington says they had to pare down to a drum line, dancers and flags – no wind instruments, no melodies.

WASHINGTON: I think the toughest part was me finding the words to say, yes, we have been invited – we have been invited, but (laughter) it’s only the drum line, and it’s, you know, a smaller percentage of the band.

KELLY: They are planning to play cadences written by famous alums of the band, like Cora Coleman. Known by her stage name, C.C. Dunham, she played in Prince’s rhythm section for five years and went on to play with Beyonce.

SHAPIRO: But the star of the show will, of course, be Kamala Harris.

WASHINGTON: We hope that she come and participate, at least give us 10 steps in front of the band. I don’t know if she’s going to be ooh-la-la (ph) flashy (laughter), but we’re praying that she would give the kids just that one moment in time where she’s in the center of the band and so we could have that photo op too.

KELLY: Well, whether she joins the band for ten steps or not, there is no doubt Harris will receive the best walk-up music a veep could ask for.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM LINE DRUMMING)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Secretary Of State Nominee Antony Blinken Promises ‘Humility And Confidence’

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Secretary Of State Nominee Antony Blinken Promises ‘Humility And Confidence’

President-elect Joe Biden listens as his Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken speaks in Wilmington, Del., in November. According to his prepared testimony, Blinken will tell senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, “Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin.” Senators will press him on issues including threats from Iran, North Korea, Russia and China.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, is appearing Tuesday afternoon before a Senate panel to begin his confirmation process. He’s vowing to restore American leadership on the world stage and work for the “greater good.”

“Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin,” he will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to his prepared testimony. “Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad … But we’ll also act with confidence that America at its best still has a greater ability than any country on earth to mobilize others for the greater good.”

Blinken has the resume of a diplomat. A Harvard University and Columbia Law School graduate who went to high school in Paris and speaks French, he served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. He was national security advisor to then-Vice President Biden, and was the Democratic staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was its chairman. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he served on the National Security Council.

Blinken cofounded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm, after Donald Trump became president.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy says Blinken’s work to help restore America’s credibility and rebuild alliances will be harder in the wake of the Capitol Hill insurrection.

“The mountain that he was going to have to climb to restore America’s credibility was a 14,000-footer. It just became a 15,000-footer,” Murphy told the Atlantic Council on Friday. Murphy says he’s been reaching out to Republicans on Blinken’s behalf to pave the way for quick confirmation.

On its first day in office, the Biden administration plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, restore America’s leading role in the World Health Organization and reverse Trump’s executive order banning travel from some predominantly Muslim countries.

Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls these issues “low-hanging fruit” compared to other challenges Blinken will face. Strained relationships with key allies and rising threats from Iran, North Korea, Russia and China are among the issues senators will press him on during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing.

“You know, looking out at this world, I divide it into migraine headaches on one hand and root canals on the other,” Miller tells NPR, citing challenges including the coronavirus pandemic, threats from Iran and North Korea’s expanding nuclear and missile arsenal. “It’s a world where American power and influence is now challenged routinely by China and Russia, by smaller powers like Iran and North Korea, and where the notion that we are the indispensable power has kind of gone the way of the dodo.”

It doesn’t mean the U.S. can’t lead, but it’s going to be a lot harder, says Miller, who has advised six secretaries of state.

This is especially true when it comes to China, says Michael Green, a former Bush administration official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Trump administration is leaving some initiatives that the Biden administration will probably continue, he says. But it is also leaving problems.

“The withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership means that the United States is now involved in none of the major economic negotiations in Asia,” he says. “Trump and his leadership skipped most of the diplomacy in Southeast Asia, and that’s where China is starting to expand its influence … And Trump put a lot of tariffs and pressure on U.S. allies that really rattled them.”

Biden, he says, will have to restore confidence among allies and get the U.S. back in the diplomatic game.

The president-elect is bringing in some diplomatic heavyweights to help. He’s tapped Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state, to oversee White House Asia policy. Former Secretary of State John Kerry will take a lead in climate diplomacy.

“There are some traditional foreign policy experts who think this is a really bad idea to have too many chefs in the kitchen,” says Green. But “given all the challenges he faces,” he doesn’t see how Biden can avoid it.

In his confirmation hearing testimony, Blinken describes his own American story, saying his grandfather, Maurice Blinken, found refuge in America after fleeing pogroms in Russia.

His late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, escaped a death march and was rescued by Sgt. Bill Ellington, a Black GI.

Blinken says in his testimony that Pisar “fell to his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: God Bless America. The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom. That’s who we are. That’s what we represent to the world, however imperfectly, and what we can still be at our best.”

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Punk And Harmony: Rising Rock Trio Palberta Finds A Sweet Spot

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Punk And Harmony: Rising Rock Trio Palberta Finds A Sweet Spot

Palberta’s album Palberta5000 is out Jan. 22.

Chloe Carrasco/Courtesy of the artist

Chloe Carrasco/Courtesy of the artist

Just as soon as you think you have a frame of reference for Palberta’s sound, it swerves into an entirely new direction. The group’s idiosyncratic punk draws comparisons to Captain Beefheart and The Raincoats while taking notions from contemporary art-rock bands like Mothers and Palm. But ultimately, Palberta sounds like its three members — Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg and Nina Ryser — and their years of working together to craft an utterly unique chemistry with one another.

The group’s forthcoming album, Palberta5000, out Jan. 22, leans on pop influences while maintaining its classic Palberta charm. Konigsberg says the music she grew up listening to from her parents’ CD collection — especially Liz Phair and Lucinda Williams — influenced the new record, too. “We all got back into that, and heavily listened to those two artists,” she says. “I feel like that type of female rock star vibe came through.” Ahead of the release of Palberta5000, the three members spoke to NPR Music about their influences and why they could never add another member to the group.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sam Kesler: I love the way that you do three-part harmony. Do any of you have formal training in harmonizing or music theory, or do you just work it out together and see how it sounds?

Ani Ivry-Block: It’s our gift.

Lily Konigsberg: We can harmonize — if someone was like, “1-2-3, harmonize this sentence,” we would find it in a second and then do it.

Nina Ryser: I was in a chorus for a long time, so I’m sure that that has to do with my ear training in harmonizing. But I do think the three of us each happen to just naturally know how to harmonize. And we’ve been harmonizing and singing with each other for so long that we’re used to it with this group.

Konigsberg: We also get the response when people are like, “Hey guys,” and we’re like, “Hi!” that it sounds like a harmony. It’s just funny; we say a lot of the same things because of how much time we spent together, so often we’ll all three say the same thing in what sounds like harmony. [Ed Note: This is exactly happened when I joined the call for this interview.]

But also, growing up listening to a ton of The Beatles and Liz Phair and Elliott Smith, I would harmonize to that stuff out loud.

Ivry-Block: I think the first harmonies that ever really spoke to me were Nirvana’s harmonies. That was the first time I was like, “Wow, harmonies are cool.”

Konigsberg: And if you want to get into girl groups, I have a girl group compilation CD of all these different [groups], like The Shirelles, and they’re doing three-, four-part harmonies. So I grew up listening to that. Oh, one more: Avril Lavigne’s album, Let Go. She does a bunch of really good harmonies on her slow songs. I was listening to that when I was 10 and learned a lot from that.

YouTube

This new album feels a lot more structured, with longer songs. Did you all go into this album thinking that you were going to switch things up?

Ivry-Block: I think we always try to push ourselves with our songwriting [and] see where we can take it. But yeah, I think we just attempted to make longer songs; probably it was slightly influenced by music that we’re listening to. We’re all into similar things right now, just like melodic rock, alternative pop music. And we had a different style of recording, because we recorded it in a studio and with tons of equipment. So it made for a very different sound.

Konigsberg: We always recorded vocals — even if we were singing different things —pretty much in front of one mic, the three of us. And this time, we got to record each in a room by ourselves, and it really made our voices shine more, and the harmonies that have consistently been in our music are more audible now.

Ryser: We also, over the years, are just continuously becoming better musicians. So it makes sense to me that, with each album, there will be a newer or a slightly different sound, because we’re just growing as musicians with each album we make.

What do you think are the characteristics of a Palberta song?

Ryser: I think the only thing that characterizes it is that it’s something that happens when the three of us are in a room writing music together. It can’t really be recreated in a different context, because it just so heavily relies on our dynamic as a threesome.

Konigsberg: Yeah, we couldn’t replace a member of Palberta; it would be completely confusing. It might be the most confusing thing to do ever.

Ivry-Block: It would really suck for that replacement. I think they’d quit the band.

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After Capitol Riot Backlash, Sen. Josh Hawley’s Book Will Hit Shelves In May

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After Capitol Riot Backlash, Sen. Josh Hawley’s Book Will Hit Shelves In May

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has a new publisher for his book The Tyranny of Big Tech. Simon & Schuster dropped the title after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, saying Hawley played a role in fomenting the mob attack that threatened House and Senate members.

Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has a new reason to raise a clenched fist in the air: After much controversy, his book The Tyranny of Big Tech will be published.

Washington-based Regnery Publishing, which aims to spread the message of “prominent and lasting voices in American conservatism,” announced on Monday it will publish the title in May.

“We’re proud to publish Mr. Hawley’s book, which his original publisher has made more important than ever,” Regnery President Thomas Spence, said in a column published in The Wall St. Journal.

Spence said he expects the book “will get additional attention,” and added, “We have a long tradition of publishing authors some of the mainstream publishers prefer to ignore.”

“We don’t have to agree with everything—or anything—Mr. Hawley does. We ask only if his book is well-crafted and has something true and worthwhile to say. The answer is yes.”

The book itself, The Tyranny of Big Tech, makes the argument that mega-tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, wield too much market power and political influence. As a result, he says, these companies, are threatening America’s republican form of government by quashing competition while raking in massive profits.

Hawley was dropped by publisher Simon & Schuster on Jan. 7, a day after the insurrectionist ransacking of the Capitol. In a statement, the company cited the senator’s role in stoking violence among the throngs that attacked the building and brutally killed a police officer.

The senator has been a leading figure in GOP efforts to spread disinformation about the presidential election results and false claims about vote tampering. On the day of the deadly riots, during which frightened lawmakers were forced to take shelter in secure locations as mobs stormed the House and Senate chambers, Hawley was one of six senators who raised objections to the certification of Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden as the next president.

“We take very seriously our larger responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom,” Simon & Schuster officials said, explaining the decision.

Hawley, a former attorney general of Missouri, immediately proclaimed himself to be a victim of cancel culture and threatened to take legal action against Simon & Schuster. He called the move “Orewellian” and a “direct assault on the First Amendment.”

“This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court,” he threatened.

The move by Regnery provides some reprieve for Hawley, who’s been widely criticized for his decision to object to Electoral College results. On Saturday, Loews Hotels announced it will no longer allow a fundraiser for the senator scheduled for February to be held at one of its hotels.

Despite the acrimonious split between the lawmaker and Simon & Schuster, it appears the two may still be linked in the rollout of the book. The New York-based company handles distribution and sales for Regnery titles in Canada and export markets around the world.

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About 80% Of Japanese Think Olympic Games Should Be Canceled Or Postponed, Poll Shows

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About 80% Of Japanese Think Olympic Games Should Be Canceled Or Postponed, Poll Shows

With much of Japan in a state of emergency due to the pandemic, public opinion is turning against holding the Tokyo Olympics. But organizers insist that there is no question of canceling the games.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Japan, public opinion is turning against holding the Tokyo Olympics. Now, the games were postponed last summer. Now, with 155 days to go, more than half of Japan’s population is under a state of emergency to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases, and vaccinations have not yet started. But as NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports, the games’ organizers insist the games are not going to be canceled.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: By international standards, Japan’s case numbers are not high, and the state of emergency is not draconian. Residents are just politely requested to avoid unnecessary outings. But experts warn that the month-long emergency may need to be extended if it doesn’t flatten the curve, and some hospitals have run out of beds. Dr. Jin Kuramochi, who runs a clinic outside Tokyo, accuses Japan’s government of putting politics and economics before people’s health.

JIN KURAMOCHI: (Through interpreter) They’re pushing the games forward without really understanding the critical situation our health care system is in. They’re not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics.

KUHN: Vaccinations won’t start in Japan until next month at earliest. It’s not exactly clear who, if anyone, involved in the Olympics will be required or able to get vaccinated. Postponing the Olympics, meanwhile, has caused the cost of holding the games to jump by 22% to around $15.5 billion – by some estimates, the priciest games on record. Economic journalist Tomoyuki Isoyama says the government is counting not only on recouping some of the money they’ve sunk into roads and stadiums, but also on boosting the overall economy.

TOMOYUKI ISOYAMA: (Through interpreter) The government is trying to make tourism an economic pillar of the nation. And the Olympics was supposed to be a driving force behind it, but now this is impossible.

KUHN: A recent poll by national broadcaster NHK found that roughly 80% of Japanese think the games should be canceled or postponed. One of the games’ most vocal critics is author Ryu Honma. He compares the current situation to the World War II battle of Imphal in northeast India in 1944. It’s a conflict that’s infamous in Japan for the recklessness of its military commanders.

RYU HONMA: (Through interpreter) Everyone knew it could never succeed but kept pushing anyway. Eventually, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed, and the commander took no responsibility. This operation is well known in Japan. The Tokyo Olympics is just like it.

KUHN: Honma predicts that Japan will have to cancel the games before March 25, when the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to begin.

HONMA: (Through interpreter) Officials will continue to insist that the Olympics will be held, but they will secretly make a decision and then suddenly announce that the games have been canceled.

KUHN: Recently, cracks in the official facade of confidence have begun to show. The chief of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, admitted in a recent speech that he can’t afford to publicly express any doubt about the fate of the games.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOSHIRO MORI: (Through interpreter) If I begin to feel even slightly unsure at this stage, it will affect everything. We should definitely push ahead, as that is the only option for us.

KUHN: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga argues that holding the Tokyo Olympics will send the message that mankind has triumphed over the coronavirus. If that triumph doesn’t come quickly enough, that message may be left to the host of next year’s winter games to send. That host is Beijing, China.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILOUS’ “DUSK”)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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What Is The Sound Of Grief?

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What Is The Sound Of Grief?

Composer Osvaldo Golijov (second from right) and three of his colleagues on Falling Out of Time: vocalists Wu Tong, Nora Fischer and Biella da Costa.

David O’Connor/Courtesy of the artists

David O’Connor/Courtesy of the artists

Osvaldo Golijov is a MacArthur “genius” composer who’s written for Yo-Yo Ma, Kronos Quartet and soprano Dawn Upshaw. But in 2012, he was accused of plagiarism, and he disappeared from the scene. Only now, nearly a decade later, is Golijov reemerging — with a work that could not have a more timely subject: it’s a meditation on grieving and loss.

Osvaldo Golijov says his own thoughts about grief go back to his childhood in Argentina, when his Eastern European Jewish immigrant great-grandfather was mourning the imminent death of his son. “He lived with my family, and slept in my bedroom while one of his sons was dying,” the composer explains.

“I remember waking up in the mornings and seeing him next to the window, praying,” Golijov continues. “Even if I was only maybe seven years old, I remember asking myself, how does a person keep praying after losing a child?”

Then, in 2002, Golijov met the founder of The Parents Circle, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the ongoing conflict between their peoples. The group’s founder, Yitzhak Frankenthal, told Golijov about one father who couldn’t bear to sleep at his own home after his son died. Instead, he slept at his son’s grave. Frankenthal stayed with him for several nights at the grave, until the mourning man could bring himself to go home.

“That story,” says Golijov, “then became more and more urgent in me, because I realized that I know seven couples between family and friends who have had this experience. And I think that we all avert our gaze.” Perhaps because it’s too overwhelming to contemplate.

Years later, when Golijov was in the midst of his own long period of silence, he picked up a book — the Israeli author David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time. It’s part poetry, part play, part novel — a chronicle of a man out of his mind with grief for his dead son. Grossman himself lost his son, a soldier who was killed in action.

“The first time we met,” Golijov recalls, “he told me that he and his wife were at home one night when two messengers came to tell them the news of the death of their son. And as soon as they heard that, they went upstairs to wake up their younger daughter, who was 12 at the time. And the first thing she said to them was, ‘But we shall live.'”

Golijov’s meditations on grief and loss are the heart of his comeback work, Falling Out of Time, a musical setting of Grossman’s text. The composer has often been moved to address enormous ideas in his music: his best-known work is La Pasion segun San Marcos (the Passion according to St. Mark) — a Latin American depiction of the last days of Jesus before the crucifixion.


Deutsche Grammophon
YouTube

Golijov’s Passion was hailed as a masterwork for the 21st century, and other big projects followed. Then, in 2012, came the accusation of plagiarism — made by two critics. It turned out to be a misinterpretation of an arrangement between Golijov and one of his collaborators. But there were also complaints that Golijov had substantially reused material.

The composer, now 60 years old, went silent. He missed deadlines, including a commission from the Metropolitan Opera. Falling Out of Time marks his return.


WBUR CitySpace
YouTube

The work, which was written for the Silkroad Ensemble, was supposed to tour widely in 2020 — a year of so much mourning and isolation. Violinist Johnny Gandelsman remembers one of the pre-pandemic performances.

“There was something about Osvaldo talking about the piece, and talking about David’s experience, and then us playing,” Gandelsman recalls. “When we finished, you could you could hear the artists sobbing.”

Falling Out of Time, says its composer, is about accompanying the isolation of grief.

“David Grossman said to the Silkroad and to me, he said even the father and the mother that are grieving the same child are each of them in their own island of exile, right? So we are alone. And yet the rest of us, I think it is our duty to accompany.”

In Grossman’s book, the main character — the father mourning the loss of his child — walks and walks through his town in maddened circles; eventually, other mourners remembering their own dead children follow him.

Golijov contrasts this endless walking “to nowhere,” he says, with a traditional Jewish shiva, in which mourners are comforted by family and friends who come to sit with the bereaved. As author Leah Hagar Cohen writes in the liner notes to Falling Out of Time, this instead is a “walking shiva,” in which the man’s wandering is its own kind of ritual.

The Silkroad Ensemble recorded “Falling Out of Time” for Johnny Gandelsman’s label, In A Circle.

“I started working on the album in February or March,” says Gandelsman. “So it was right in the middle of the pandemic. Having something to do and something of this meaning and quality was just something that really gave my life some meaning during these really bleak and empty months, creatively speaking.”

And the work seems to have opened a well of inspiration for Golijov, in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s interesting that when there is no distractions or anywhere to go,” he observes, “the music keeps coming and coming and coming. So yeah, for some reason — I always say, the faucet opened, and it’s flowing.”

Golijov says he’s made a certain peace with the ebbs and flows of his creativity.

“I really envy composers that are constantly prolific. But I also learned to live with myself, in the sense that I can be silent for periods and then not silent.”

In the wake of such a dark and dense piece as Falling Out of Time, Golijov says that he has turned to writing a new piece that is its opposite.

“There is a quote-unquote freedom of the brush that I am very happy about,” he remarks. “I think that this is, for me, important right now, spiritually and musically, to go to a place where it’s not no where and no time, but where time is clicking and there is growth — and there’s funk and rhythm and jokes.”

A place, that is, filled with lightness and brightness.

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3 Questions And The Emerging Answers About COVID-19 Vaccine Protection

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3 Questions And The Emerging Answers About COVID-19 Vaccine Protection

Researchers are making progress in understanding the human immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the vaccine to prevent COVID-19.



Christoph Burgstedt/Science Source



Christoph Burgstedt/Science Source

As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, three big questions loom. First, can someone who has been vaccinated still spread the disease? Second, will the vaccine remain effective as the virus itself evolves? And third, how long will the vaccine’s protection last?

Answers to these questions lie in our immune systems. And the answers aren’t straightforward because our immune systems are both remarkably adept and remarkably challenging to predict.

Let’s start with the first question, about whether people who are vaccinated can still spread the disease. Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, says that’s not just an open question for this vaccine, but for vaccines in general.

“I think it’s hard to say because we’re constantly being bombarded by different pathogens and we don’t know when your immune system is responding,” she says. We may have infections that don’t make us sick, so we never know about them. But we could be spreading disease.

When a person is infected – or inoculated with a vaccine – the immune system gears up to produce antibodies that specifically target the virus. Over time, those antibodies naturally wane. But the immune system still holds a memory of the virus, and if it ever shows up again, cells spring into action and start to gear up a new batch of antibodies. However, that process can take three to five days.

In the meantime, a virus can potentially start to replicate in the body.

“It’s a bit of a race between the immune system and the virus,” says Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at The Rockefeller University.

If the immune response kicks in quickly, very little virus would be produced. Your ability to spread disease “is really a function of how much virus you’re producing,” Nussenzweig says.

It seems likely that a person’s immune system will win that arms race, but scientists don’t have the data yet to say that with confidence. That’s why people who have been vaccinated are still supposed to wear a mask and take other precautions – until that gets sorted out.

Another wild card here is that your lungs and nasal passages contain a population of so-called T cells, which are primed to identify cells that have been infected with a virus. This type of T cell is much harder to study, since they stay inside tissues, so scientists studying blood samples don’t end up seeing them.

Since these T cells are primed to react immediately, they might also help bridge the gap between the time you get infected and the time that your immune system can mount a full response with antibodies.

“In influenza, those T cells that are embedded in the tissue can have a dramatic effect of limiting the infection,” says Stephen Jameson, an immunologist at the University of Minnesota school of medicine. But whether they perform as well in COVID-19, “we don’t really know enough yet,” he says.

The second question, about whether the vaccine will remain effective even as the virus evolves, is harder to answer. Scientists thus far aren’t too concerned about the current strains of the virus that are spreading globally – vaccines will apparently still work against them. But the virus will continue to morph, with uncertain consequences.

“Even though everyone is obviously concerned about a virus evolving, your memory B cell responsiveness also evolves over time,” Pepper says.

Memory B cells are an important component of the immune system because remember an infection. These lurk in your bone marrow, and are ready to morph into antibody-producing cells if the virus they “remember” reappears in your body.

But they don’t simply remember one specific antibody that has worked against a virus in the past. They can also randomly generate new antibodies that are similar, and which may be more effective against a strain of virus that your body has never seen.

“It’s pretty much the only time in the body where a mature cell introduces mutations intentionally into the DNA,” Pepper says.

But remarkable as this system is, it does have limits. Viruses that undergo significant changes from one year to the next, such as the flu, can outmaneuver this system. That’s why you need a new flu shot every year. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mutates much more slowly than the flu, but it’s not yet clear whether memory B cells will be adaptable enough to keep the virus permanently in check.

Finally, is the question of how long a vaccine will last.

In some instances, your immune system can have a very long memory.

“Some natural infections can give you lifelong immunity,” Jameson says. “You only get it once and you’re protected for the rest of your life.”

Vaccines mimic a natural infection to trigger an immune response. But vaccines may require a boost to keep that immunity strong. The memory B cells that target the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 may not have the staying power of the cells that protect us from the measles, for instance. So far, scientists have observed that these memory B cells have persisted for many months following a case of COVID-19, but it’s too early to say anything about whether they will eventually fade.

“The good thing is there would be the opportunity that if it turned out there was some waning of the immune response,” Jameson says. “Then, like many other vaccines, maybe … you get another booster after a year or something.”

These questions reflect how much scientists have come to understand about our immune system in recent years. COVID-19 is also illuminating what we still don’t know about how the immune system defends us from infectious germs.

“It’s been very interesting to watch this unfold in real time,” Pepper says, “because we’re learning so much about this virus and the immune response to it, in a way that we’ve never done previously.”

You can contact NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris at rharris@npr.org.

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Data Challenges Efficacy Of Vaccine Made By Chinese Company

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Data Challenges Efficacy Of Vaccine Made By Chinese Company

Many nations are betting on a vaccine made in China to immunize their populations. Clinical trial data from Brazil shows it is only 50% effective — less than the 78% previously reported.

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Photos: The Nation’s Capital, Quiet And Guarded, Before Inauguration

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Photos: The Nation’s Capital, Quiet And Guarded, Before Inauguration

Security preparation continues in Washington, D.C., for Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Tyrone Turner/WAMU

Tyrone Turner/WAMU

Washington, D.C., is in defense mode ahead of Wednesday’s presidential inauguration.

Armored vehicles and troops are positioned around the Capitol and other government buildings. Many streets are closed, as authorities brace for protests and potential violence from supporters of President Trump and extremist groups who are threatening another assault like the one at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.

National Guard soldiers have been arriving from all 50 states and three U.S. territories.

We take a look at the scene around the nation’s capital city on Sunday.

National Guard troops provide security at the U.S. Capitol for the upcoming inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden amid threats by extremist supporters of Donald Trump in Washington DC on January 17, 2021. There were threats to storm capitols in all 50 states but the day remained quiet.

Carol Guzy for NPR

The National Guard keep watch from the U.S. Capitol.

Eman Mohammed for NPR

Views in downtown Washington, D.C. as Inauguration prep continues. A man walks down and empty I Street NW.

Tyrone Turner/WAMU

Construction worker putting up a security fence to surround the FBI building at Pennsylvania Avenue NW, DC, during the preparation for the United States Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden on January 17, 2021, in Washington D.C.

Eman Mohammed for NPR

National Guard troops provide security at the U.S. Capitol for the upcoming inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden amid threats by extremist supporters of Donald Trump in Washington DC on January 17, 2021. There were threats to storm capitols in all 50 states but the day remained quiet.

Carol Guzy for NPR

National Guard troops walk past a memorial for Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick who was killed in the riot. They provide security at the U.S. Capitol for the upcoming inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden amid threats by extremist supporters of Donald Trump in Washington DC on January 17, 2021. There were threats to storm capitols in all 50 states but the day remained quiet.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Military vehicles and concrete dividers block streets as part of the security perimeter near the U.S. Capitol.

Tyrone Turner/WAMU

National Guard troops provide security at the U.S. Capitol for the upcoming inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden amid threats by extremist supporters of Donald Trump in Washington DC on January 17, 2021. There were threats to storm capitols in all 50 states but the day remained quiet. Shattered windows behind them.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Construction worker putting up a security fence to surround the FBI building at Pennsylvania Avenue NW, DC, during the preparation for the United States Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden on January 17, 2021, in Washington D.C.

Eman Mohammed for NPR

A member of the National Guard protects the perimeter fencing around the Capitol Hill.

Eman Mohammed for NPR

National Guard troops provide security at the U.S. Capitol for the upcoming inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden amid threats by extremist supporters of Donald Trump in Washington DC on January 17, 2021. There were threats to storm capitols in all 50 states but the day remained quiet.

Carol Guzy for NPR

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Kremlin Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Detained Upon Russia Return

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Kremlin Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Detained Upon Russia Return

Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained shortly after landing in Moscow on Sunday, months after he was poisoned by a rare nerve agent.


MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We’re going to go to Russia now, where Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained shortly after landing in Moscow today, five months after he was poisoned by a rare nerve agent last summer. Navalny had been recuperating since then in Berlin but insisted he would return even though he knew he would likely face arrest by Russian authorities. We’re joined now by NPR’s Lucian Kim in Moscow, where he’s been following Navalny’s arrest.

Lucian, thanks so much for joining us.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So just bring us up to date and remind us how we got to this point today.

KIM: Sure. This is the latest dramatic chapter in the dramatic story of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic. As you said, Alexei Navalny was poisoned last summer. He was on a domestic flight in Siberia, and only thanks to the intervention of Germany was he allowed to leave for medical treatment. European experts later determined he’d been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, first developed in the Soviet Union.

Russia has vehemently denied that it poisoned him. But it’s really interesting. Putin has such an allergy to Navalny that he won’t even mention his name. Putin has indicated that he thinks Navalny is a nobody who isn’t even worth killing. But at the same time, Navalny was barred from running against Putin in the last presidential election back in 2018, and he has had to deal with a slew of legal cases against him.

MARTIN: So walk us through what happened at the airport.

KIM: Right. Well, there was a massive police presence at the airport where he was scheduled to land. The police even made some arrests. And then, really at the last minute, the flight was diverted to another Moscow airport. Journalists accompanying Navalny livestreamed how he and his wife Yulia made their way into the terminal. Navalny made a brief statement saying all the cases against him were fabricated and that he had no reason to be afraid. And then minutes later, he was detained by law enforcement when he got to immigration. He had time to kiss his wife goodbye and then was led away. He’s now going to be held until a judge hears a complaint by authorities that he violated the terms of a suspended prison sentence.

MARTIN: And tell me more about that. What is the charge here?

KIM: It goes back to a rather murky embezzlement case a few years ago when Navalny received a suspended prison sentence. Later, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Navalny’s favor.

MARTIN: So what does Navalny hope to achieve by returning?

KIM: Well, by returning, he’s really throwing down the gauntlet to Putin. The Kremlin thought that threats of arrest might make him think twice about returning. But Navalny understands that exile is a place where he’d likely be forgotten and that jailing him is also not the best option from the point of view of the Kremlin. This poisoning case has made Navalny an international cause celebre. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited him in the hospital, and she and French President Emmanuel Macron keep bringing it up when they talk to Putin.

Joe Biden, when he was still candidate for president, blamed Putin for the poisoning and said that as president, he’d hold Putin accountable. So Navalny returns to Russia with a much bigger international stature that (ph) he had before, and he’s hoping he can leverage that against the Kremlin. And now he’s openly daring Putin to put him in jail.

MARTIN: That was NPR’s Lucian Kim in Moscow. Lucian, thank you.

KIM: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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