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News Brief: AstraZeneca Vaccine, Miami Beach Curfew, Border Crisis

NOEL KING, HOST:

A coronavirus vaccine that is already being used all over the world might be available soon in the U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

AstraZeneca announced preliminary results this morning from a study of its vaccine involving 32,000 volunteers. The FDA requires studies like this before granting emergency use authorization. Dozens of countries temporarily suspended the use of this vaccine after a very small number of recipients developed blood clots.

KING: NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has been following this one. Good morning, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: How did the AstraZeneca vaccine do in this trial?

PALCA: Well, it did quite well. I mean, there had been some murmurings that maybe it wasn't going to come out with such an effective efficacy as high as people had hoped. But no, they found 79% efficacy against COVID-19 - that's for any kind of symptomatic case - and 100% percent efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization. Now, this was for two doses spaced for the most part four weeks apart. Previously, the company had reported efficacy around 60%, although in some circumstances, they had higher efficacy. So 79% was a good showing.

KING: Good showing. How does it compare to the other vaccines that are out there?

PALCA: Well, not bad. If you remember, Moderna and Pfizer both reported efficacies closer to 90% or 95% for their vaccines, so not quite as good as that. Johnson & Johnson was closer to 70% efficacy, so somewhat better than J&J, although - and it's a similar kind of vaccine to the Johnson & Johnson one, but it involves two shots as opposed to Johnson & Johnson, which is a single injection. Now, this study didn't answer an interesting question of whether or not the vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine, will work against some of the variants that have popped up. It was completed before the U.K. strain or variant started circulating widely in this country. And other studies have suggested that it doesn't appear to work so well against the variant that's circulating in South Africa. So still a lot of open questions.

KING: Yeah. So much depends on the variants, as you've reported over the past few months. In Europe - Steve alluded to this - a tiny number of people developed blood clots after taking this vaccine. Did any of that show up in the study?

PALCA: You can imagine that AstraZeneca was very concerned to answer that question before it released the results of this study. The answer is no, they didn't. They looked as carefully as they said they could. They got an independent neurologist to come in and evaluate potential cases. They did not see anything that was related to the kinds of blood clots that have caused some suspicion of connection in Europe. But I have to say, this is not the kind of study that would necessarily reveal that. This was 21,000 people that got the vaccine. And the side effect might be much rarer, maybe one in a million or something like that.

KING: OK. And so when will the FDA make a decision?

PALCA: Well, usually it takes a few weeks for the FDA to sort of pore over the data that the company presents to it, and then they'll hold an advisory committee meeting. And then usually, it's a few days after that that they make a decision. But, you know, these things have a way of dragging on sometimes. You just never know.

KING: NPR's Joe Palca. Thanks, Joe.

PALCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: OK. In Florida, city mayors are pleading with people to do the right thing.

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DERRICK HENRY: So our hope is that people will do the things that we've asked them to do as it relates to masking up, backing up and washing up.

JERRY DEMINGS: And not only can you spread the virus to seniors, but you can spread the virus to anyone.

DAN GELBER: Because that's the first job of a city government is to keep order, and we've got to do that. So if you're coming here to go crazy, go somewhere else. We don't want you.

INSKEEP: We just heard Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. Miami Beach has been taking emergency measures. The city set a curfew to control people celebrating spring break. Hundreds of people defied that curfew, walking the streets without masks. Over the weekend, police sprayed pepper balls to disperse crowds.

KING: Veronica Zaragovia of member station WLRN in Miami is with us. Good morning, Veronica.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

KING: How did things get so out of hand in Miami Beach?

ZARAGOVIA: Well, the city of Miami Beach depends heavily on its hospitality industry as a lifeline, as does a good amount of this county. And the pandemic has hit tourism hard. And the city had hoped to strike a balance between welcoming tourists and keeping people safe. But city officials say they didn't expect the amount of people who came. They're blaming cheap flights for that. And over the last few days, crowds really swelled and things came to a head. At one point, the city's police chief said that at least one gun was fired. Police also fired pepper balls to break up a crowd. They said - and one very popular party venue on Ocean Drive announced it was temporarily shutting down to protect patrons and staff. And that really rattled people. And officials say arrests are up, and they're confiscating weapons and drugs.

KING: How are spring breakers reacting to all of this? What are they saying?

ZARAGOVIA: Yeah, I've heard a mix of reactions. Some say they understand the need for the curfew. But Christina Thomas is a college student who tells me she had heard about Miami's fun reputation and good weather. She flew in from Indiana, and she thinks the police overreacted.

CHRISTINA THOMAS: I didn't think that it calls for all that because really everybody was just having a good time. Like, they weren't breaking into things. They weren't, like, fighting or anything like that. So it was kind of a bummer.

ZARAGOVIA: And another visitor I spoke to did not come for spring break but says the curfew left her without anything to eat or do. So she was thinking of going to Fort Lauderdale. That city does not have a curfew.

KING: You know, Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, has been lifting restrictions. He recently very famously said, quote, "Florida is open for business." Do people think that's contributing to what's happening now?

ZARAGOVIA: Yeah, the governor has made it harder for local authorities to fine businesses or people if they don't physically distance or wear masks. And that does please people coming from cold weather places. And they like that things are really open here. But one local couple who live here in Miami Beach say that Governor Ron DeSantis is partly to blame for the crowds. They're Yasmin Aribu-Bishop (ph) and Nico Bishop (ph).

YASMIN ARIBU-BISHOP: I think him saying this is open and everybody can come to Florida - no, that didn't help.

NICO BISHOP: Let him come here on Friday night...

ARIBU-BISHOP: Yeah, you come and experience this.

BISHOP: ...In the middle of 8th Street and Ocean Drive. Come over here and see if you agree with this.

ZARAGOVIA: They say the police presence is unsettling, but they like the curfew. They feel that it makes them safe at night.

KING: When does spring break end?

ZARAGOVIA: After an emergency meeting yesterday, the city can extend its nightly curfew for three weeks. They will also be limiting street and highway access to the area and restricting restaurants to deliver only during the curfew.

KING: Veronica Zaragovia of member station WLRN in Miami. Thanks, Veronica.

ZARAGOVIA: Thank you, Noel.

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KING: President Biden is facing the first big challenge on immigration of his presidency.

INSKEEP: Migrants are arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, many seeking asylum, saying they fear persecution in their home countries. And many are children traveling alone.

KING: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. Good morning, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: How is the Biden administration handling this situation?

ROSE: Well, it's twofold. First, they are trying to increase capacity in the shelter system that is designed to care for these migrant children. That is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. And over the weekend, HHS announced another new facility for migrant children in west Texas to handle this influx. And second, the administration is doing a lot of damage control, led by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who did a media blitz yesterday on the Sunday talk shows trying to discourage migrants from coming to the border. Here he is on NBC.

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ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Our message has been straightforward and simple, and it's true. The border is closed.

KING: But some people are being allowed to cross, right?

ROSE: That's right. Former President Trump basically closed the border to migrants because of the pandemic. And Mayorkas wants to make clear that that's largely still the case. Adults are still being expelled quickly. But now there are, as you say, some exceptions. The migrant children are allowed in and some asylum-seekers are also being allowed in after President Biden ended Remain in Mexico, which is the Trump program that forced them to wait outside the U.S. for their asylum hearings. And the Biden administration has made some other changes, too, to reverse Trump immigration policies, for example, halting border wall construction and introducing some ambitious immigration bills to expand pathways to citizenship. And Republican critics of the administration say all this is sending a mixed message that is encouraging migrants to try to cross the border, leading to what critics are calling a crisis in these crowded Border Patrol facilities near the border.

KING: It has also led to this outstanding question, which is why is the Biden administration moving so fast?

ROSE: Well, a lot of people are really asking that question. Even some of the White House's allies are saying, what is the rush here? Why allow these migrant children in now if the U.S. doesn't have systems in place to properly care for them? But Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas says this is a moral imperative, that these are vulnerable migrant children who are protected by U.S. law. And the administration has made a decision not to try to return them to Mexico or to Central America like the previous administration did but to try to get them to safety in the U.S. The problem for the White House is the optics of all this. It has opened the administration to criticism that the border is out of control, and it has put thousands of kids in Border Patrol facilities that are really not designed for kids. And all of this could potentially endanger the administration's larger message on immigration.

KING: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.