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Anti-vaxxers try — and fail – to make Colin Powell their smoking gun

Vaccination skeptics wanted to use Powell’s death to help their cause. It didn’t work.

Anti-vax vultures flocked to the news of former Defense Secretary Colin Powell’s death on Monday, making ignorant assertions about the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Powell, who was fully vaccinated, died from complications of the disease.

In Powell's death, many vaccination skeptics claimed to see evidence that Covid vaccines are ineffective and, thus, unnecessary. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Powell, 84, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that depresses the immune system. He was immunocompromised, just like about 92 million other people in the U.S., according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. And because immunocompromised people are at greater risk of developing serious illness and dying from contracting the coronavirus, the public’s vaccination status is just as important to them as their own. 

Illustration of Colin Powell and a healthcare worker prepping a Covid-19 vaccine.
Former Defense Secretary Colin Powell, who was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, died from complications of the disease.MSNBC; Getty Images

Powell died from Covid as a vaccinated person, but science tells us we’re less likely to spread the virus to others and to create vaccine-evading variants when we get vaccinated. In a humane society, that alone would be all the incentive needed. However, in America, selfishness has been and remains a barrier to vaccine uptake. 

Fundamentally, vaccination is about selflessness. For that reason, the public figures who used Powell’s death to spread anti-vax misinformation may come as no surprise to you. 

There was Fox News anchor John Roberts, who claimed that Powell’s death “raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term.” (Roberts deleted the tweet hours later, writing that it wasn’t meant to be interpreted as “anti-vax” and that he himself has been vaccinated.)

Adding to the mix was Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who claimed that Powell’s death means “you’ve been lied to” about the vaccines’ effectiveness. Another Fox News host, Will Cain, claimed that Powell’s death from Covid complications is a “very high-profile example that’s going to require more truth.”

“We talk about [Powell’s death] on a day when state after state and institution after institution are pushing mandates for vaccination,” Cain said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”

Each of these men is posing questions that have already been asked and answered. Vaccination mandates are working in encouraging more people to get vaccinated. More people’s getting vaccinated is decreasing Covid-related deaths and hospitalizations. Getting a Covid vaccine not only might benefit each of us individually; there’s also no doubt that widespread vaccination protects those at high risk — like the late Colin Powell. 

Nearly two years into this pandemic, information about why we get vaccinated is widely available. Anti-vaxxers and their allies just don’t like the answer.

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