Why Colin Powell Was At A Greater Risk For Contracting COVID-19

While no one is immune to contracting the COVID-19 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that among those most vulnerable, those age 60 and older, the immunocompromised, and those with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk for severe complications from the virus, such as death and hospitalization. As of October 17th, there have been over 720,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the United States (via Statista). As of Monday October 18th, Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, was among them (via NBC).

Having been fully vaccinated, Powell's death has raised questions as to what factors contributed to his reduced levels of COVID-19 protection that ultimately led to his passing (via CNN). Medical experts believe that Powell's immune response to the vaccine had been compromised due to a diagnosis of an underlying medical condition known as multiple myeloma. With an additional diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, at the age of 84, these factors put Powell at additional risk for complications.

CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, further reinforces this assessment, stating how Powell, "represented our most vulnerable population in this country."

How multiple myeloma patients respond to the vaccine

Multiple myeloma occurs when there is excessive growth of cancerous plasma cells in the body (via American Cancer Society). These cells produce an abnormal antibody and can result in low blood counts, bone deterioration, kidney damage, and infection. Although multiple myeloma is not curable, according to Cancer.Net, treatment plans can vary and include the use of medications, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and targeted therapies, among others.

Experts continue to stress the importance of vaccination in order to protect others, with Powell's death illustrating how those who are immunocompromised are at an increased risk for complications. President of the American Association for Cancer Research Dr. Anthoni Ribas states via CNN, "These patients are at a disadvantage to fight the virus. Even with the vaccine, the data that we have shows that people with multiple myeloma, 20% to 30% of them do not have a good immune response to the vaccines."

Dr. William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, further elaborated on the science behind the vaccine response in patients with this diagnosis, stating via CNN, "Vaccines like the Covid vaccine give our immune systems a little tiny taste or a tiny example of the Covid virus so that they produce these antibodies that put a lot of extra soldiers on guard who also specifically can attack that virus. When the plasma cells that make antibodies become cancerous, they are not as adept at making the antibodies that you need for specific pathogens like the virus that causes Covid."