Colin Powell’s Blood Cancer Made Him Vulnerable to Covid-19

He had been treated for multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells in the bone marrow, which made vaccines less likely to protect him from severe Covid.,

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Powell, whose immune system was weakened, died of Covid-19 despite being vaccinated.

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell died on Monday at age 84.
Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell died on Monday at age 84.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • Oct. 18, 2021Updated 11:30 a.m. ET

Colin L. Powell, whose immune system was weakened by treatment for multiple myeloma, died of complications of Covid-19 despite being “fully vaccinated,” his family said in a statement.

Peggy Cifrino, Mr. Powell’s longtime aide, said that he had been successfully treated for multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells in the bone marrow.

The family’s statement did not provide further details about the complications or underlying health conditions. It said he was treated at Walter Reed National Medical Center. Other details about his health were not released, including whether he had received a booster shot, or when he had been vaccinated against the virus. He was 84.

People with multiple myeloma have compromised immune systems and are thus at greater risk of developing severe Covid-19. Vaccines are also likely to be less effective in these patients.

In a study published in July, researchers found that just 45 percent of those with active multiple myeloma “developed an adequate response” after receiving either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Although the shots are critical in reducing severe disease and death from the coronavirus, such outcomes are not unexpected. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, experts say.

As The New York Times reported recently, severe Covid is rare in people who have been fully vaccinated.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it had received reports of 10,262 breakthrough infections by April 30 — a tiny fraction of the 101 million Americans who had been vaccinated by that date. (The agency noted that it likely represented “a substantial undercount” of breakthrough infections.)

Of those breakthrough cases, 2 percent died — and in some of those cases, patients were hospitalized or died from something unrelated to Covid-19. The median age of those who died was 82.

Multiple myeloma wasn’t his first battle with cancer. In 2003, when he was secretary of state, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

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