Fact Check-Death of Colin Powell is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are ineffective; medical history put him at greater risk

Social media posts have suggested that Colin Powell’s death is proof that COVID-19 vaccination is ineffective. However, Powell’s reported underlying health conditions put him at a higher risk for breakthrough infection and serious illness from the coronavirus.

One such post said, “Fully vaccinated, Colin Powell, is dead at 84 from covid.Trust the science!” (here), with similar posts (here), (here).

Reuters reported on October 18, 2021, that General Colin Powell died at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19. Powell was fully vaccinated, his family said (here). Powell had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, a source who asked not to be named told Reuters. The condition reduces the body’s ability to fight infection and puts people at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

Powell’s longtime aide, Peggy Cifrino, reportedly told the New York Times (here) that Powell had been successfully treated for multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells in the bone marrow.

In a Facebook post announcing the passing of Powell (here), the family gave no further information on whether he had received a booster shot, when he got ill or if he had any underlying health conditions.

According to the organization Myeloma UK, “myeloma patients, even those in remission, are considered extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. This is because myeloma affects how well the immune system can respond to infection.” (here) A large-scale analysis of data in four countries of patients with myeloma suggested higher mortality in hospitalized patients with myeloma and COVID infection than non-myeloma patients (here).

Scientists appear to agree that breakthrough cases in which the patient develop a serious disease and die are seen mostly amongst people over 60 years old with an underlying health condition.

In August, Reuters reported on Israel data on COVID-19 breakthrough cases. At the time, around half of the country’s 600 patients hospitalized with severe illness had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The majority had received two doses at least five months ago, were over the age of 60, and had a chronic illness known to exacerbate a coronavirus infection (here).

In September, Reuters reported that available data showed that most severe breakthrough cases had occurred in people over 65 or among those who were immunocompromised. The latter group is recommended for a booster shot (here).

Effectiveness research quoted by the CDC shows that vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID, reducing the risk for COVID-associated hospitalization in older adults, and preventing infection (here).

The CDC also alerts that fully vaccinated people who are immunocompromised “may not always build adequate levels of protection after an initial 2-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people.” (here)


Missing context. General Colin Powell’s death due to complications associated with COVID-19 is not proof that vaccinations are ineffective. Powell had a reported history of immune-suppressing illness.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .