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Gen. Colin Powell's Tremendous Legacy Shouldn’t Be Tarnished by Misinformation By Glenn Ellis

Oct. 26, 2021

Gen. Colin Powell's Tremendous Legacy Shouldn’t Be Tarnished by Misinformation

By Glenn Ellis

NEWS ANALYSIS

colin powell

(TriceEdneyWire.com) - The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of life as we know it. It’s also changed our perceptions of mortality. The last year and a half has witnessed a steady parade of death and devastation from across our country. So far, the pandemic has claimed about 723,000 lives here in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There’s an old saying, “When America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.” The pandemic has demonstrated this almost too well with almost daily news reports about the higher rates that. African Americans were infected, seriously ill, without quality care, having “pre-existing conditions,” and, dying. We’ve lost infants, youth, adults and many of our elders.

Now, we are mourning one of our nation’s most decorated heroes. General Colin Powell became one of the latest casualties in this deadly “war” against a microscopic organism. Gen. Powell died at age 84 on Monday October 18. Gen. Powell, of course, was a four-star general, diplomat and statesman. He becomes yet another one of our Black “legends” claimed by this pandemic such as country music legend Charley Pride, corporate executive Herman Cain and “Friday” actor Tommy “Tiny” Lister.

Gen. Powell leaves a truly remarkable legacy of accomplishment, service and valor. He was the consummate Native New Yorker – born in Manhattan to Jamaican immigrants, raised in the South Bronx and received his bachelor’s degree from City College. He would later become a four-star general in the U.S. Army, the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security advisor and the first Black secretary of state.

It’s a tremendous life and legacy. But unfortunately, those historic achievements have become footnotes in many reports following his death. That’s because the late general’s fully vaccinated status has become a source of misinformation around vaccines and the coronavirus. There is rampant speculation – without any evidence -- that “the vaccine” hastened the death of an 84-year-old man who was fighting multiple serious health conditions.

Gen. Powell received his “second Pfizer shot in February but was immunocompromised,” reports The Washington Post. “’He was actually scheduled to receive his booster when he fell ill last week,” [longtime assistant, Peggy Cifrino] said, reported by WaPo. “He couldn’t go to his appointment. … He thought he was just not feeling quite right, and he went to the hospital."

Gen. Powell was described as “immunocompromised.” This means that Gen. Powell’s immune system was already weakened from several other serious health conditions and the medications. The general was living with Parkinson’s disease – a progressive decay of neurological cells – and a blood cancer known as “multiple myeloma.”

Myeoloma and its treatments would have definitely affected the immune response to the vaccine, according to numerous reports, and made it very difficult if not impossible to fight the virus.

People living with myeloma are only able to produce one type of antibody to fight infections, the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research’s Dr. James Berenson told CBS News this week. Some 55 percent of people living with multiple myeloma failed to fully respond to COVID-19 vaccinations, according to new research published in the peer reviewed journal “Leukemia.”

Multiple myeloma disproportionately affects our Black communities. Black Americans’ risk is about twice as high as whites. The mortality rates are also twice as high in our communities. But the overall survival rates are generally good – the five-year survival rate is 60 percent – if there is early diagnosis and good care. Once again, Blacks are also more likely than whites to receive an early diagnosis.

Now let’s talk about vaccines. Almost 190 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC.

Most vaccines work well -- generally – and but immune responses vary. But the simple truth is that vaccines are less effective on older adults. Late teenagers, young adults in their 20s and 30s … these people generally respond the strongest to vaccines. That’s because their bodies are newer, stronger and generally without serious, long term health complications. A case of the flu or even the common cold could send many 80 year olds to the emergency room.

The important thing for us, as a Black community, to do is to look at the facts; not the just the “science” ...the facts. A good starting point is the purpose of the vaccine.

The Mayo Clinic sums it up the real purpose(s) of vaccines perfectly. A COVID-19 vaccine might: prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19; prevent you from spreading the virus to others; add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19 — making it harder for the disease to spread and contributing to herd immunity; and to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading and replicating, which allows it to mutate and possibly become more resistant to vaccines. That’s it; end of the story. In other words, the vaccines are not designed to keep you from being infected with COVID.

The facts speak for themselves.

Based on data reviewed to date, in those rare cases when a fully vaccinated person gets infected, data suggests it is older adults and those with multiple underlying medical conditions who are most at risk of serious illness. Even if fully vaccinated against Covid-19, immunocompromised people are at greater risk from the coronavirus.

Most Americans’ first encounter with Gen. Powell was during his daily television news briefings during the Iraq War in 1989 and 1990. Not mine, I first met Gen. Powell many years earlier when attending A.H. Parker High School as a freshman in Birmingham, Alabama. This was just after attending B.C. Hill Elementary School with my classmate Condoleezza Rice, who later followed General Powell to become the first Black female secretary of state,

I was now a student at the mighty Parker High School. Our high school principal was the legendary, Mr. R.C. Johnson who was the father of Alma Vivian Johnson. She would later marry this serious young man and become the future general’s wife – Mrs. Alma Powell. I remember my buddy Stanley’s grandmother, Ms. Hicks, giving us a heads up the day before that “Lt. Powell is going to be at Parker tomorrow”. But I digress...

Many people with PD live between 10 and 20 years after being diagnosed. Don’t you think General Powell knew that his option was to not be vaccinated?

The important thing for us, as a Black community, to do is to look at the facts; not the just the “science” ...the facts. A good starting point is the purpose of the vaccine.

The Mayo Clinic sums it up the real purpose(s) of vaccines perfectly. A COVID-19 vaccine might: prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19; prevent you from spreading the virus to others; add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19 — making it harder for the disease to spread and contributing to herd immunity; and to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading and replicating, which allows it to mutate and possibly become more resistant to vaccines. That’s it; end of the story. In other words, the vaccines are not designed to keep you from being infected with COVID.

Maybe we should, instead, consider thinking about ways we can devote more human and financial resources to protecting the seriously at-risk populations among us than subjecting their already-compromised immune system to face a vaccine? Imagine a world where we actually do the things, at times like this, so that the immunocompromised and at-risk among us are protect by the actions and behaviors of the rest of us. That would require a threshold that is achievable only with high vaccination rates. Don’t forget the goal of this whole thing with vaccines was to reach herd immunity. Have we done all we can to protect the frail; the vulnerable; the elderly; the young without subjecting their compromised immune system to a vaccine under emergency use authorization? I didn’t think so.

Of course, 95 percent effective sounds a whole lot better than 65 percent when we hear talk about which vaccine is better. I get that; but scientists everywhere, who study viruses, will tell you that a vaccine’s ability to block transmission doesn’t need to be 100 percent to make a difference. Seventy percent effectiveness would be “amazing”, according to scientists studying infectious diseases at Northeastern University in Boston. All we need are the facts. We are descendants of people who lived through worse, with far less, who knew how to use basic, common sense and reason to make critical judgement decisions based on the facts available to them at the time. Did it work out perfectly for them all the time? Nope. But it got us to where we are. allowed them to make decisions about the fate that they could live with.

Reminiscent of those years, for many of us, on personal levels, is the sting we have all have felt from COVID’S death trap over the past 19-months. Last week I lost my 30th friend (RIP Marty) to COVID since March 2020. Watching the people we know, love, and respect, die from anything that doesn’t seem to hit “other folks” as hard, is never easy for Black people. This COVID pandemic is especially difficult for Blacks to swallow, while being accused by the society-at-large of “collective vaccine hesitancy”.

An 86-year-old Black man who spent over 50 years of his life in the active military; directly involved in over 28 military conflicts around the world, being currently medically treated for Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Myeloma. What a man, what an example of a life well-lived. All of us must deeply consider our own individual circumstances, and make good, sound decisions for ourselves and our families around all things COVID...especially vaccine. Let’s get the facts and make decisions about our life that we can live with. General Powell did. Let’s not tarnish his legacy with misinformation. Get the facts

Glenn Ellis, MPH, CHCE, is a Visiting Scholar at The National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University and Harvard Medical School Bioethics Faculty Fellow.


 
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