Colin Powell, the first African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, who passed away Monday, died from COVID-19 complications, even though he had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Powell, 84, was immunocompromised, and in the last few years, he had been treated for multiple myeloma, according to a longtime aide.
Multiple myeloma impairs the body’s ability to fight infection, and studies have shown that those cancer patients don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as healthier people.
Following Powell's passing, doctors at Northwestern Medicine issued a news released in which they explained the 84-year-old's death shouldn't deter vaccinations, noting it shows the importance of booster shots.
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“I’m afraid people will say the vaccine didn’t help him," said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "But the mortality rate for vaccinated people is 11 times less than unvaccinated. People still die from the disease, especially if you are 84 and have underlying health risks."
The former secretary of state also underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2003. In announcing his death on social media, Powell's family did not address whether he had any underlying illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, patients who are older and/or immunocrompised are more vulnerable to contracting COVID with serious complications and death, even if they've been fully vaccinated.
But incidence of death from breakthrough cases still remains eight to 10 times less than unvaccinated persons with the same demographics, according to Northwestern doctors.
Dr. Khalilah Gates, associate professor of medicine in pulmonary and critical care at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said Powell's death enforces what doctors have been encouraging: continued vaccinations in older age groups and booster shots.
"For all of the Colin Powell’s amongst us, in our families, in our communities, we cannot afford to become lax. We’ve come so far since March 2020, but we still have some ways to go together," the doctor said.