Collin L. Powell, former Secretary of State and multiple myeloma patient, died today at age 84 of complications of COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Mr. Powell was treated at Walter Reed National Medical Center. Details about his health have not been released, including whether he had received a booster shot or when he had been vaccinated. Multiple myeloma was not his first cancer diagnosis - he underwent treatment for prostate cancer in 2003.
Mr. Powell was a fierce protector of the United States, incredible leader and one to cross party lines when he believed doing the right thing meant upholding principles, not supporting individuals. He served as Secretary of State from January of 2001 - January 2005 under President George W. Bush. Prior to his post as Secretary of State, he served as the youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1989 - September 1993 under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He also served as the 16th United States National Security Advisor and United States Deputy National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan. Mr. Powell was a four-star U.S. Army general in a career that began in an ROTC program in a New York City college and included service in Vietnam.
His attitude accepted reality while maintaining a personal and professional strategy of optimism. His 13 Rules for Life and Leadership included:
We expect that these rules for life governed the way he approached both his prostate and myeloma diagnoses.
His death is a reminder that having multiple myeloma can risk for patients in an ongoing COVID world.
Multiple myeloma patients are at greater risk because of the myeloma itself and by being on immunosuppressive therapy. According to a study by Greek myeloma researchers, the COVID vaccine may have a reduced effect compared to healthy individuals and may create a delayed response. Patients on an anti-CD38 therapy may have worse antibody responses, even after two doses of the vaccine. While the majority of myeloma patients do develop antibodies to the COVID vaccine, it is still essential that patients take precautions.
An additional study by Mount Sinai myeloma researchers reviewed cases of 320 myeloma patients who received COVID-19 vaccinations in early 2021 (with 18% of those patients already having COVID prior to immunization). In this study, 84.2% mounted measurable COVID antibody levels (segmented into three response groups) and 15.8% of patients had antibodies below detection levels.
Myeloma patients who developed COVID prior to vaccination (38 patients) had 10 times higher COVID antibodies than those without prior COVID. Healthy individuals without myeloma had more consistent antibody production but also had higher COVID antibodies if they had contracted COVID prior to vaccination.
Patients receiving myeloma treatment had significantly lower IgG antibody levels after two vaccine doses compared to patients not receiving myeloma treatment. The Mount Sinai study confirmed that patients on anti-CD38 antibody treatment and BCMA-targeted therapy had significantly lower antibody levels compared to patients on other myeloma treatments and patients off treatment.
We honor this distinguished veteran for his unparalleled service for the United States of America and are grateful for his leadership, light and life. As we want your light and life to continue to shine, please ask your doctor to test your COVID antibody levels, so you can take the necessary precautions as a myeloma patient in a continuing COVID world.
about the author
Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of HealthTree Foundation (formerly Myeloma Crowd).