On October 18, Powell’s family announced that the four-star general, and the first Black American to serve as secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had died from complications of COVID-19.
Powell was fully vaccinated, however, and vaccine skeptics and conservative media personalities jumped on that fact to spread false or misleading claims and innuendo suggesting coronavirus vaccines don’t work, are dangerous and are just not what they’re cracked up to be.
“Fox & Friends” host Will Cain suggested the government was hiding “the truth,” calling Powell a “very high-profile example” of the fact that the “fully vaccinated are dying from COVID.” And marquee Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Powell’s death proved that “you've been lied to.”
Some of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters, who as a group have significantly lower coronavirus vaccination rates in the country, joined in. One was C.J. Pearson, the founder of the conservative Free Thinker Project and student senator for the University of Alabama.
Pearson, whose 375,000 Twitter followers include Eric Trump, suggested that Powell’s death exposes a news media bias favoring vaccines.
“Will the media point out that Colin Powell died despite being fully vaccinated the same way they point out when people aren’t when they die?” Pearson asked.
Thousands liked, and hundreds retweeted Pearson’s tweet. But it is misleading.
Most responsible news outlets not only reported that Powell was vaccinated but included context about his complicating medical conditions — cancer and Parkinson’s disease — and correctly and honestly noted that vaccines aren’t a panacea and never were promised to be.
“Powell, 84, had been treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infections — and to respond well to vaccines,” The Associated Press reported.
CBS News cited a recent study in the medical journal Leukemia reporting that “55% of multiple myeloma patients failed to fully respond to COVID-19 vaccination, based on antibodies measured in their blood after two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.”
The Daily Mail noted the Parkinson’s diagnosis. Powell’s age and medical history were “an unlucky confluence that gave him a perfect storm for being at severe risk, despite being fully vaccinated,” the outlet reported, citing Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the vaccines against COVID-19 are “not 100% effective at preventing infection,” and that “some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19. These are also known as breakthrough cases.”
As of October 12, the CDC reported 7,178 breakthrough deaths among more than 187 million Americans who had been fully vaccinated. In 85% of these deaths, the victims were over 65 and had underlying health conditions that complicated their cases.
At the same time, unvaccinated people are six times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and 11 times as likely to die from the disease, the CDC reported.
The vaccines against COVID-19 are highly effective at minimizing the risk of infection, hospitalization and death, the CDC said, and booster shots are being administered to help those with weakened immune systems fight the new variants as the virus rapidly evolves. (Powell was due for a booster shot but had not yet received it when he became ill.)
As to Pearson’s suggestion that news media might ignore Powell’s vaccination status?
In fact, nearly every mainstream outlet reported upfront that he’d been fully vaccinated.