Health officials explain how Gen. Colin Powell’s health issues compounded with COVID-19, despite vaccination


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — It was a precious memory Master Sgt. Donald Caldwell took to his grave.

In 1995, in the Mediterranean Sea, aboard the Norfolk-based USS Wasp, the Norfolk-based U.S. Marine provided security for Gen. Colin Powell.

(Photo courtesy: Patrice Caldwell)

The former Marine died in a car accident in 2006. Powell died Monday from COVID-19.

(Photo courtesy: Patrice Caldwell)

“He always made time for me. I could always go to him with rough issues and he always had great counsel,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in reflecting on the highest-ranking Black man in military history who later became the nation’s highest-ranking diplomat.

FILE – In this Feb. 15, 2001 file photo, Secretary of State Colin Powell looks on as President Bush addresses State Department employees at the State Department in Washington. Powell, former Joint Chiefs chairman and secretary of state, has died from COVID-19 complications, his family said Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)

Powell was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but he also suffered from Parkinson’s disease and a blood-based cancer called multiple myeloma — the same disease that killed former WAVY-TV 10 anchor Terry Zahn.

Cynthia Williams, Riverside Health System’s chief pharmacist, explained how Powell’s health problems affected his response to the vaccine.

“In and of itself, having that cancer puts you in an immunocompromised state, meaning, your immune system is just not as robust as some who would be otherwise healthy,” said Williams.

Riverside Health System’s Cynthia Williams receiving the first coronavirus vaccines
(Photo Courtesy: Riverside Health System)

“You’re receiving chemotherapy and other kinds of medications which in and of themselves can cause an immunocompromised state,” she said.

A study published in the science journal Nature showed that only 45% of multiple myeloma patients developed an adequate response to the vaccine, while 22% had a partial response. Thirty-three had no response. Immune system concern is why the FDA and CDC called for third shots, which are different from boosters.

“The scientists recognized those individuals might not have gotten the full effect of that vaccine and that a third dose may be needed just to get them where the rest of us would be after two doses,” she said.

Riverside is concerned Powell’s death could lead to even more vaccine hesitancy.

“I think what people will say is, ‘Well look, he was duly vaccinated and he still died.’ I think what it is important to remember is that no vaccine is 100% effective,” she said.

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