Colin Powell was fully vaccinated, but he still died from COVID complications. How rare is that?

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Many Americans were surprised to learn Colin Powell dies of COVID-19 related complications Monday morning, especially because the former secretary of state and retired four-star general was fully vaccinated against the disease.

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“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” Powell’s family said in their statement.

Although it is extremely unusual for people who are fully vaccinated to die from COVID-19, health experts say age and pre-existing medical conditions can increase the chances of infection, serious illness and even death. .


Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that fully vaccinated people 80 and older are as likely to die from COVID-19 infection as unvaccinated people in their 50s and early 60s.

CDC also reports October 12, 7,178 deaths in people who have been vaccinated; 85% of deaths occur in people 65 and older.

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Health experts say that at the age of 84, Powell joined this high-risk group.

“As we get older, our immune systems weaken and are less likely to respond appropriately to vaccinations and we are more likely to get sick when we are exposed to infections,” Dr. Kristin Englund, an infectious disease specialist. Cleveland Clinic. “So very quickly we targeted vaccines for our elderly population.”

Since older people were some of the first Americans to be vaccinated, she said, it’s possible that Powell’s immunity has waned over time, though it’s not clear when he got his first shot.

Research suggests that it may also occur among other populations. An August study from the CDC showed that vaccine effectiveness decreased among health care workers who were fully vaccinated since the delta variant became widespread.

However, if the person is not vaccinated the chances of dying are still very poor. CDC data shows that people age 80 and older are nearly six times more likely to die from a COVID-19 infection than those vaccinated in the same age group.

Powell may also have multiple myeloma, According to media reports, which is a type of blood cancer that affects the body’s immune system. Health experts say this would undoubtedly have played a role in their ability to fight off the infection.

“He had cancer of his white blood cells and those are some of the cells we need to help fight infection,” Englund said. “Usually it affects the B-cells in the white blood cells that help us make antibodies and immunity.”

To better protect this population, Food and Drug Administration authorized third COVID-19 vaccine shot in August For people with severely weakened immune systems.

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This enabled nearly 2.7 million immunocompromised Americans to receive their third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The agency also authorized booster shot of pfizer vaccine In September for people 65 and older, young adults with underlying health conditions and in jobs that put them at higher risk for infection. More than 8.8 million people have received the Pfizer booster since it was authorized.

Last week, an FDA advisory committee voted to endorse Half Dose Booster Shot of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for the same population. The panel also decided on Friday whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Those receiving initial authorization should be considered a two-dose vaccine rather than a single shot.

Powell’s family did not say whether he had received a third shot, but Englund said it was difficult to predict whether the infection could have been prevented.

“He had a very difficult blood cancer that he was fighting. Whether he would have had an adequate response to the booster is not clear,” she said. “We do not know his status of multiple myeloma and we do not know whether The booster would have helped him.”

What would have helped, Englund said, would have been if more Americans were fully vaccinated. Powell’s passing is an important reminder to vaccinate, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect vulnerable populations of the elderly and those with weakened immune conditions, she said.

“If we could all do our part like he did his entire life to serve and vaccinate Americans, perhaps we could have built a ring of protection around him so that he would never be exposed to COVID. Don’t come in,” she said. “He served his country the best and now it is our duty to do the same.”

Contribution: Mike Staka, USA Today. Follow Adriana Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at Granthshala is made possible by a grant from the Massimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Massimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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