The death of former secretary of state Colin Powell Monday from complications from COVID-19 shows why more people need to be vaccinated, health experts say.
Powell’s struggles with cancer and his advanced age put him in the category most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the deadly coronavirus. Experts say this highly vulnerable group could benefit the most from the large number of vaccines available.
Powell’s family said he was fully vaccinated, but he had myeloma, a type of blood cancer that suppresses the body’s immune response. Both the disease and the treatment cause the patient to have a weakened immune system.
Not only did the patients become more susceptible to various types of infections, but their immune systems did not respond well to the vaccine. Less than 50 percent of vaccinated myeloma patients have a good immune response to protect them from COVID-19, a recent study finds, according to epidemiologist Celine Gounder of New York University.
Older people also have a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to younger people. Powell himself is 84 years old.
Patients like Powell are at a particularly high risk if the COVID-19 virus that infects them has spread widely, said Whitney Robinson, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“When we can’t reduce the transmission rate, the most vulnerable people, (including among them) the elderly, people with compromised immunity (immunocompromised), or unlucky people, whose bodies cannot develop a strong immune response through vaccines, they pay a heavy price (for this),” he said.
The best way to keep the transmission rate low is through more vaccinations.
“Powell probably wouldn’t have caught the virus if we all had a vaccine with high efficacy,” said Georgetown University professor of public health law Lawrence Gostin.
“That is why we have to end the spread of misinformation” that causes many people to refuse to be vaccinated.
Vaccination efforts in America have stagnated and are determined in large part by partisan attitudes. Most Republican sympathizers (58 percent) have been vaccinated, but this group also has a proportion who say they don’t want to be vaccinated (23 percent), a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found.
Republican sympathizers are more likely to tell pollsters that the vaccine is not as effective as promised. A writer at the Daily Beast posted a video clip of Fox News presenter Will Cain using Powell’s death to denounce the effectiveness of the vaccine.
In contrast, 90 percent of Democratic Party sympathizers said they had been vaccinated, and only four percent said they did not want to be vaccinated. (jm / em)