Colin Powell’s death highlights need for more people to get vaccinated

Colin Powell died of complications from Covid-19 according to his family, who posted the news on Facebook this morning. The former Secretary of State was 84 years old and would have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Within minutes of the death, people on social media were asking questions such as, “If he was vaccinated, why did he die from Covid-19?” and the news was used by some to falsely suggest that Powell’s death was proof that vaccines don’t work. This is not correct or correct.

First, Powell was 84 when he died and it is well known that older people do not produce as much immune response to Covid-19 vaccines as those who are younger. So while older people who are vaccinated are still less likely to experience serious or fatal consequences from Covid-19, serious illness and death still occur. Even in vaccinated young people, serious outcomes and death occur, much more rarely than in unvaccinated people.

Second, as reported NBC and others, Powell had a type of cancer called multiple myeloma, a type of cancer in the blood that can sometimes be controlled for years with the help of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. A host of new treatments for multiple myeloma have been approved recently, including innovative cell therapies such as CAR T cells, but multiple myeloma is still widely regarded as a chronic, incurable cancer.

People with blood cancers are now well known to be at a higher risk of serious complications if they have Covid-19 and people with multiple myeloma are no exception. One of the main reasons for this is that multiple myeloma affects white blood cells, which build up and form tumors in the bones and other places in the body where they shouldn’t be. Not surprisingly, this means that people with multiple myeloma have a reduced ability to fight infection.

“While General Powell was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, he had received treatment for multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood cancer. His illness and age made him more vulnerable to infection, complications and death from Covid-19, “said Dr Gwen Nichols, Chief Medical Officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Third, it was not revealed what treatment Powell was receiving for his multiple myeloma, but several chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs are also known to suppress the immune system to varying degrees and therefore influence an individual’s ability to fight. a Covid-19 infection. . For example, CAR T cells approved for the treatment of multiple myeloma specifically target a protein called BCMA found on white blood cells called B cells, refining and killing them. B cells are immune cells that produce antibodies to orchestrate the immune response, so suppressed B cells would greatly reduce a person’s ability to fight off any infection, including Covid-19.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, people with blood cancers are known to have a reduced response to Covid-19 vaccines, both due to the cancer itself and cancer treatments they may receive. Powell would have been fully vaccinated, but based on the specifics of his multiple myeloma and the treatments he was able to undergo for his cancer, it is likely that he had a reduced response to his Covid-19 vaccines.

“Covid-19 vaccines are safe and provide protection for most blood cancer patients, but some will not have a complete antibody response, which is why it is important to continue to take other precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, ”Nichols said.

The CDC recommends booster shots for people who are immunocompromised, including those with blood cancer. Initial studies have shown that some immunocompromised people who do not have much antibody response to the initial Covid-19 vaccines are given a vaccine booster.

Powell had an underlying health condition that likely influenced his ability to fight Covid-19, but his death should not be considered less important for this reason. Rather, this is a tragedy, as people like Powell who have health issues that can inhibit their response to both Covid-19 and protective vaccines are more dependent on others for their safety. This can be best achieved by getting vaccinated and keeping community levels of Covid-19 low through reasonable public health measures.

“The death of General Powell is a stark reminder of the importance of vaccination for everyone. By getting vaccinated, those with normal immunity can reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19 to those with impaired immunity, ”Nichols said.

About Chris Stevenson

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