Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks to a guest at a reception to celebrate the Royal Wedding at the British Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC on May 19, 2018.
Erin Schaff | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Colin Powell, 84, died Monday morning of complications from Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated, his family said in a statement.
The death of the former foreign minister has led some to wonder why they should bother to get vaccinated if they are still at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying.
Health experts say it is important to note that no vaccine is 100% effective. Additionally, Powell was older, a known risk of severe Covid, and suffered from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that studies show vaccinations may be less effective.
“The goal of the vaccine is to drastically reduce, but not eliminate, the chance of suffering, hospitalized, or dying,” said Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the Food and Drug Administration on Covid vaccines.
In Powell’s case, he was over 80 and had cancer that put him at higher risk for severe Covid, Offit said.
Immune system compromised people, including cancer and HIV patients or those who have had organ transplants, make up only about 2.7% of the adult US population, but make up about 44% of hospitalized Covid, according to data presented by the Centers for Disease – Control and prevention breakthroughs in July. A breakthrough case is when a fully vaccinated person becomes infected.
A study published in late July found that only 45% of patients with active multiple myeloma developed an “adequate” immune response after being vaccinated with either the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Only 22% had a “partial” answer.
Unfortunately, the same mechanisms that “hamper the ability of patients with multiple myeloma to fight off infection also reduce their ability to generate immunity through vaccination,” the researchers wrote.
US regulators say a third dose of vaccine can help such people create better immune responses. The FDA approved third vaccinations in August for people with compromised immune systems who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Regulators have also approved Pfizer booster vaccinations for those 65 and over and other at-risk adults.
Based on the family declaration, it is unclear whether Powell received an additional dose.
Offit said fully vaccinated people with weak immune systems should continue to wear masks and social distancing indoors.