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What Colin Powell’s COVID-19 death says about the current state of the pandemic

What Colin Powell’s COVID-19 death says about the current state of the pandemic

  • October 19, 2021

The death of Colin Powell, an 84-year-old former four-star general who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George HW Bush and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush and perhaps best for his role, the Embracing US in its second war in Iraq is a high-profile reminder of a grim reality: COVID-19 is not just a pandemic of the unvaccinated, as current President Joe Biden likes to put it, but a pandemic of the elderly, too.

From the start of the pandemic, we knew the virus was disproportionately killing the elderly, and the overall data makes this pretty clear: in the US, around 543,200 people aged 65 and over have died from COVID-19 to date. according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or about 76.2% of the total death toll in the country, although they only 16.5% of the population before the pandemic.
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When vaccinations began rolling out earlier this year, it became clear almost immediately that people who received a full vaccination – including the elderly – were less likely to get COVID-19. Before the delta variant caught on in the summer, people age 65 and over who were fully vaccinated were hospitalized at an average rate of less than 5 people per 100,000, compared to about 40 per 100,000 among their unvaccinated peers.

Continue reading: Colin Powell and the transformative power to admit mistakes

As the delta variant became widespread, this inequality widened. In late August (the last month for which CDC data is available), when Delta cases were spike across the country and the FDA hadn’t yet approved a booster vaccination, the oldest Americans vaccinated were at a rate of. hospitalized only 15 people per 100,000. In their unvaccinated peers, however, the rate had risen to over 200.

Still, the reality remains that older people – including those who are vaccinated – are at serious risk of COVID-19. In fact, according to the CDC, vaccinated people aged 80 and over died at significantly higher rates than even some younger unvaccinated individuals (although, of course, they are still remarkably better off than their unvaccinated peers). In part, this is likely due to the fact that older people are more likely to have conditions that make them more susceptible to infection or dull the effects of vaccinations. Powell, for example, was fully vaccinated but also had multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that weakens the immune system.

These factors led a US Food and Drug Administration panel in the past few weeks to approve Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna boosters specifically for Americans 65 and over (plus younger people at higher risk for health or professional reasons) Has. Another dose, it is thought, should help better protect our most vulnerable neighbors. A promising Israeli study The data released last month showed that people over 60 who received a Pfizer booster were nearly 20 times less likely to develop serious illness, data that in part influenced the FDA panel’s decision. Even if cases keep dropping, the relative risk for the elderly remains pretty high, in part because falling cases cause more people to engage in riskier behaviors, potentially leading them to spread the virus to older loved ones – Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays are just around the corner and were a major driver of the spread last year.

The key now is to convince vaccinated older Americans to get their booster vaccinations and get those who remain unvaccinated to get their first doses. The former should be a lot easier – older Americans are vaccinated much more often compared to younger groups, perhaps in part because they generally have more to fear of the virus, and those who have had their vaccination once or twice are likely to get ready be to get another one. Convincing the latter will be a steep climb; What is left to say to those who remain unprotected despite the greatest risk? That Powell died of a breakthrough infection is already fueling the anti-vaccine fire as people falsely cite his death as evidence of the imperfection of the vaccines when it is really just further evidence that a more fully vaccinated population and booster vaccination are urgently needed.

This story was adapted by The coronavirus letter, TIME’s daily COVID-19 newsletter. Sign up here.

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