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News Brief: Boulder Shooting, AstraZeneca's Vaccine, Infrastructure Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The first thing to know and remember about a mass shooting in Colorado is that it's early and not all the facts are in.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. The story can change, as we've learned from too many other mass shootings. What we do know for certain is that a gunman opened fire at a supermarket. He killed 10 people before police took him into custody. The first name we've learned of a victim was a police officer who responded, 51-year-old Eric Talley.

INSKEEP: Colorado Public Radio's photojournalist, Hart Van Denburg, was on the scene of the shooting yesterday and is on the line. Good morning to you.

HART VAN DENBURG, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you see when you arrived?

VAN DENBURG: Steve, when I arrived, I saw dozens and dozens of police vehicles, SWAT vehicles, ambulances, buses, helicopters in the sky, drones in the sky, and the shopping center, which is in a residential area, completely surrounded by authorities and no traffic being allowed in or out of that part of the city.

INSKEEP: And this was the period when people who'd been trapped in the supermarket were being escorted out or escorted away. Is this right?

VAN DENBURG: Yeah, that's right. The person who had been led away earlier was gone. But as I got there, they were starting to lead people out of and across the parking lot with guards, obviously, two buses that then took them to a staging area over on the University of Colorado campus.

INSKEEP: And, of course, these were people who were shopping when this incident unfolded. Can you describe what is known, the narrative, from the beginning?

VAN DENBURG: What we know right now is that at some point yesterday afternoon, at around about 2:30, a gunman entered the parking lot and and walked into the store and started shooting. Eyewitnesses say some people in the store ran out the back through the loading docks, others ducked for cover or hid. And at some point, police officers arrived, including Officer Talley, and a siege began. And by the time I got there and a lot of other news personnel got there, there was still a huge police presence and the entire area was cordoned off.

INSKEEP: Ultimately, I guess, the suspect is captured. There are images of him - is this correct? - apparently bleeding as he's being led away.

VAN DENBURG: Yeah. The pictures show a man without a shirt just wearing a pair of shorts, bearded and evidently bleeding from a leg. Yeah, that's right.

INSKEEP: Can you talk us through some of the unknowns at this point?

VAN DENBURG: Well, the biggest unknown right now to the public is who the other nine - the nine victims are. Police have said they will only release those names once they've contacted next of kin. And we also don't know the motive. The Boulder County district attorney has said the investigation has started and expects it to take a number of days before more is known about that.

INSKEEP: Hart, I want to ask you one other question. And it's just what it's like to be in the state where you are right now. We're at this point in the country where there feels like - whatever the statistics show - feels like a constant drumbeat of mass shootings. It had been interrupted for a while by the pandemic. And now we've had a couple very quickly upon one another. What does it feel like as you move about and do your job in the last 24 hours?

VAN DENBURG: Well, one of the things that you hear people saying or you overheard people saying at the scene was they couldn't believe that this was happening again, that this was not what they expected, not what they expected getting back to normal after the pandemic to look like, especially in this state with its history of previous mass shootings.

INSKEEP: Getting back to normal. We'll remember that phrase. Hart, thank you very much.

VAN DENBURG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Hart Van Denburg of Colorado Public Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Just 24 hours ago, we were telling you the U.S. test results of a new COVID vaccine.

KING: Astrazeneca reported positive outcomes for thousands of people who had taken it. This morning, though, we have more information. Just after midnight, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sent out a statement about the vaccine. It said that a committee looking at the data was concerned about how the company was describing the results.

INSKEEP: Concerned about what exactly? This is another developing story where the best thing we can do is remind you of how much we don't know. But NPR science correspondent Joe Palca is here to talk us through what we do know. Joe, good morning.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is this statement that's come out overnight?

PALCA: Well, it's very unusual. So as you said, yesterday, the company reported some efficacy results that were very promising for the vaccine that they've been developing. And the way these studies work, Steve, is there's something called a Data Safety Monitoring Border, or DSMB, that tracks the results of the study because while it's being carried out, it's called double blinded, so nobody knows who's getting which vaccine, but somebody has to know, and that's the DSMB. And they look at the data and they have a couple of rules that say, OK, you have enough information now to stop the trial. So apparently one of those rules was triggered and they had enough information and they said, OK, here's the key to the results. You know, here's what each person got and what each illness was related to. You go ahead and use the results to make your description of how you wanted to say what what happened. So the company does that. And something must have happened because overnight, this release came from the NIAID, the institute that sponsored the trial, which says, quote, "the DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data. We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible."

INSKEEP: OK, wow. So, OK, wow, so we do not know what this means exactly. We don't know that this means the vaccine is no good or whatever. But efficacy, that's a vital question. How well does it work? There is some question about this claim from yesterday of a 79% - a vaccine that provides 79% of people with protection.

PALCA: That's right. I mean, normally, we would say, oh, well, that's the information. That's where it comes from. There's some discordance because somebody said something based on data that somebody else who knew the data very intimately said that doesn't look right to us. Now, we haven't heard what the company has to say about that yet. And we haven't heard more from whatever it was that the DSMB saw in this lack of up-to-date information to know what to make of that.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should emphasize this vaccine's not being used in the United States at this point, right? So this is...

PALCA: That's true.

INSKEEP: There's time to figure out this confusion. But what's one question that's on your mind as the day unfolds?

PALCA: Well, the question is - yes, to reassure people, this doesn't mean the vaccine is bad. There's just a question of how good it is. And that's a kind of a strange thing to say. But, yeah, I want to know what's going on. And at the moment, I don't think anybody really does, or at least the people who do know aren't saying.

INSKEEP: NPR's Joe Palca, thanks.

PALCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. The ink is still drying on stimulus checks from President Biden's COVID-19 relief package.

KING: And now his team is turning to its next legislative push - an even bigger bill to improve infrastructure. So what do we know about this plan and about Biden's strategy to get it through Congress?

INSKEEP: Let's find out from NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What could be in this plan we haven't seen yet?

LIASSON: Well, there are reports that it's a gigantic package, maybe $3 trillion worth of investments in human infrastructure like universal pre-K, free community college, also physical infrastructure way beyond roads and bridges, major investments in the manufacturing and technologies of the future, like 5G, universal broadband, semiconductors, carbon-free transportation. There are reports that it'll be paid for with the tax hikes on corporations and individuals earning more than $400,000 that Biden talked about during the campaign, although the White House press secretary said that nothing has been decided finally yet. But, you know, I talked to Bill Galston, former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House, and he said if the rescue plan was designed to put out the fire, this build back better agenda is meant to reconstruct the house and it could transform the country. Here's what he said.

BILL GALSTON: A country that has not invested in itself for a very long time, a country that is on the verge of losing its technological and economic superiority to the rising power at the other side of the Pacific.

LIASSON: So that need to outcompete China is something both parties agree on. And it's going to be at the heart of Biden's sales pitch for this build back better package.

INSKEEP: This is something that could affect the country for generations, but it has to get through Congress, has to get through a very closely divided Senate, a 50/50 Senate. Is there a way to do that as they managed to get the $1.9 trillion COVID plan through?

LIASSON: Well, if you mean he's going to push this through without any Republican votes, there are a lot of Democrats and Republicans who hope he won't. You know, the COVID-19 discussions started out with Democrats with a $1.9 trillion package, Republicans with $681 billion. The gap was just too big to bridge. But now the White House is trying a slightly different approach. They're inviting Republicans in on the ground floor. There have been a lot of meetings about infrastructure in the White House and at the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told her Democratic committee chairs to work with their Republican counterparts to develop infrastructure legislation. We don't know how far this will go or whether it will be successful.

INSKEEP: Do Republicans have any motivation to collaborate with the White House?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. You know, infrastructure used to be a bipartisan issue. Certainly outcompeting China is a bipartisan issue. But there's not a lot of trust between the two parties, especially after January 6 when a majority of Republicans voted to overturn the 2020 election. But Democrats say there could be pieces of this infrastructure agenda that could be broken off into smaller individual bills and passed with Republican votes. One of the big questions for the White House is whether bipartisanship is something that they'd like to have but it's not crucial, or whether it's a political necessity, something Biden absolutely needs to show that he meant it when he promised during the campaign that he'd work across the aisle.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.