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Why Colin Powell succumbed to COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated

Why Colin Powell succumbed to COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated
October 18
23:58 2021

On Monday, Colin Powell, a retired general and the first black US secretary of state, died of coronavirus complications. 

Powell’s family announced that the 84-year-old was fully vaccinated against the virus.

“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid-19,” his family said.

“He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment.


“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”

Powell’s death has raised questions on why fully vaccinated persons stand the risk of severe complications arising from COVID-19 infections, that could lead to death.

According to global health bodies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the vaccines are designed to prevent severe complications arising as a result of coronavirus infections.


However, in situations where death occurs after a person has been fully vaccinated, medical experts attribute this to a “breakthrough infection”.

“Some people can still contract COVID-19 despite complete vaccination, because their immune systems have not produced enough protective antibodies,” Usman Habu Balbaya, director of medical laboratory services, Nizamiye Hospital, Abuja, told TheCable.

“Although any fully vaccinated person can experience a breakthrough infection, people with weakened immune systems caused by certain medical conditions or treatments (including organ transplants, HIV and some cancers and chemotherapy) are more likely to have breakthrough infections.

“This is an expected occurrence for a small percentage of those receiving any vaccine, since no vaccine for any disease is 100 percent effective in preventing infection in every person who receives it.”


In the case of Powell, the late general had been treated over the past years for “multiple myeloma”, a blood cancer that weakens the body’s ability to fight infections.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has cancer as first on its list of underlying medical conditions of concern for persons who receive the COVID vaccine.

Powell’s treatment for multiple myeloma may have affected how his body responded to the COVID vaccine — hence the breakthrough infection and his subsequent death.

Age is also identified as a risk factor.


Some countries — including the US — have recommended booster shots of the COVID vaccine for people aged 65 and above, considering their risks of weakened immune systems.

However, it is not immediately clear if Powell received a booster dose.


Balbaya advised that despite being vaccinated against COVID-19, an individual needs to still maintain safety precautions.

“We advise that even fully vaccinated people continue to follow all safety precautions (masking, distancing and hand hygiene) while the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” he told TheCable.


“Immunocompromised patients should contact their doctors and discuss getting a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Avoid indoor gatherings, especially when many people are present or ventilation is poor.

“The basic coronavirus precautions are effective in lowering your chances of becoming infected with the coronavirus, even after you have been fully vaccinated.”


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