Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell died on Monday, October 18, 2021, at age 84 due to complications related to COVID-19. General Powell was fully vaccinated but had been undergoing treatment for cancer when he contracted the virus, CNN reported.
“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. He was fully vaccinated,” his family wrote in a statement on Facebook. “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.”
The family did not release any details about the kind of complications Powell experienced, but his immune system was compromised because he’d been undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, the New York Times reported. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects plasma cells, which are a category of white blood cells. These cells play a crucial role in the immune system by helping to create the antibodies that protect against bacteria and viruses, the Mayo Clinic says. In someone with multiple myeloma, though, cancer cells build up in the body’s bone marrow and make it harder for healthy plasma cells to do their job. Treatment for multiple myeloma can include chemotherapy, which may also negatively impact the immune system and make patients more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, also rely on those antibodies to create a long-lasting immune response that can help protect against certain illnesses. The best evidence we have right now suggests that people who are immunocompromised—due to an underlying condition or chemotherapy, for instance—don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as those who are not immunocompromised. Getting a booster shot may give immunocompromised people extra protection, but Powell’s family did not specify whether or not he had received one.