What Colin Powell’s death tells us and doesn’t – about COVID-19 vaccines

Secretary of State Colin Powell at a hearing of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., on July 11, 2002. Powell, the first African-American to be U.S. secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has died of complications from covid-19, his family says. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Dennis Brack

The following editorial was originally published Oct. 21 by The Daily Star of Oneonta:

The news of the death of Colin Powell from COVID-19 complications had hardly been released before anti-vaccination vultures tried to claim it as evidence that vaccines don’t work.

Rather than honor a patriot who broke ground as the first Black chairman in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state for the U.S., some chose to disrespect a lifetime of sacrifice and service to make flimsy arguments to support their political talking points.

Tucker Carlson, the FOX News host whose thinking is as twisted as his facial expressions, couldn’t wait.

“So, what does that tell you, exactly?” Carlson asked on his show. “Well, it tells you, you’ve been lied to. Vaccines may be highly useful for some people, but across a population, they do not solve COVID. That’s not speculation, it is an observable fact. People who’ve been fully vaccinated can still get the virus, they can still transmit the virus to others, and they can still die from COVID. Colin Powell is hardly the only example of that.”

Carlson didn’t cite any of his other examples, but he sure left out a few things about Colin Powell.

It’s true that Powell, 84, was fully vaccinated. It’s also true that he was immunocompromised. As reported by The Washington Post, Powell’s age put him at high risk of severe infection from COVID-19 and he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He’d been treated for multiple myeloma, too, in recent years. The Associated Press reports that the blood cancer both impairs the body’s ability to fight infections and respond well to vaccines.

So a vaccination wasn’t enough to fully protect a man with all those health problems. Maybe it would have prevented the disease in the person from whom Powell caught it. Maybe he’d still be alive if that someone cared enough about the world around him to make the very small effort needed to help stop the disease.

Vaccinations protect recipients against COVID-19 and protect society’s most vulnerable citizens by reducing the potential spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the airborne infectious disease, according to two medical experts who spoke to The Daily Item, a CNHI newspaper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rutul Dalal of UPMC and Dr. David Pugliese of Geisinger each said the death of Powell reinforces the need for those eligible to become vaccinated. His death, they said, is not evidence that the vaccines don’t work.

“Love thy neighbor,” said Dalal, medical director, Infectious Diseases, UPMC in North Central Pennsylvania “This is very important. We don’t know who among us is immunosuppressed and we should be protective of them.”

“When you look at this from a population health perspective, the more people we protect the better off as a society we’ll be,” Pugliese said.

“In medicine and in life there’s always going to be an anecdote or a case that would suggest things aren’t working perfectly. If you look at his case and say that’s the reason why you shouldn’t get (vaccinated), then 95% of people who save themselves from the hospital or ventilators would not have been protected,” Pugliese said.

According to the American Medical Association, as many as 6 million U.S. adults are immunocompromised. That might very well include someone important to any one of us. Isn’t protecting them important?

The death of Gen. Colin Powell is not an argument that vaccines do not work. It’s an argument that not enough of us care about the society in which we live.

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