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The 84-year-old former Secretary of State suffered from multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells in bone marrow, which compromised his immune system. He was fully vaccinated against Covid-19 but died from complications on 18 October, his family announced.
In a since-deleted tweet, Mr Roberts claimed that “the fact that Colin Powell died from a breakthrough Covid infection raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term”.
Following backlash and accusations that Mr Roberts was spreading mis- and disinformation about the disease and vaccines, as well as the health diagnosis and age of Mr Powell making him more vulnerable to severe illness and death, the post was deleted.
Beginning a series of posts to clarify his statement, he said: “I deleted my tweet about the tragic death of Colin Powell because many people interpreted it as anti-vax. It was not.”
“I was excited to get vaccinated, hoping it would help speed a return to ‘normal life’,” he continued. “I also did a PSA on Fox encouraging vaccination for those able. As we all know, the FDA is now recommending boosters for certain people, and I personally know a number of people who have had breakthrough infections – some of them, quite troubling.”
I deleted my tweet about the tragic death of Colin Powell because many people interpreted it as anti-vax. It was not. I was excited to get vaccinated, hoping it would help speed a return to 'normal life'. I also did a PSA on Fox encouraging vaccination for those able....
— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) October 18, 2021
Later on Monday, Mr Roberts appeared on a panel on Fox News with Dr Nicole Saphier, who was asked by co-anchor Sandra Smith about so-called “breakthrough” infections.
“It’s very upsetting to see people taking Colin Powell’s death and using it as ‘the vaccine didn’t work,’” she said.
“This is a very specific situation,” she said. “To use someone’s death to try and make a point that really doesn’t carry a lot of weight to it is very frustrating. ... You had an elderly gentleman ... At the age of 84 he was already vulnerable for Covid-19. Then you add cancer of the blood and he is most vulnerable.”
More than 189 million people in the US are fully innoculated against Covid-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 18 October. More than 10.5 million people have received a “booster” dose.
Powell was 84. He had cancer. Additionally, the fact that he is perhaps the only real high profile breakthrough death we know about only underscores how effective the vaccines are. It doesn’t raised questions about it. https://t.co/X0Ju24qTN0
— Sam Stein (@samstein) October 18, 2021
No. GEN Powell was successfully fighting multiple myeloma, a cancer of blood cells, and that fight compromised his immune system — which was a profound challenge when he contracted COVID. https://t.co/zPt2Q3PFle
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 18, 2021
Fox News is already using Colin Powell's death to cast doubt on vaccine effectiveness
Just a reminder, since they aren't mentioning it: While there have been breakthrough cases and deaths -- you are far, far, far more likely to die from Covid if you are unvaccinated pic.twitter.com/Vwzj1bGDE5
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) October 18, 2021
Vaccines greatly reduce risk of severe illness and death from disease but do not eliminate risk of infection.
A CDC report analysing infections, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 across 13 jurisdictions this summer – during the peak of more-contagious Delta variant infections, which soared to 90 per cent of new weekly cases – found that 92 per cent of Covid-associated illnesses and deaths were among unvaccinated people.