The death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lost his life to complications of COVID-19, shows the reason to keep striving for high levels of immunity in the community and the need for as many people to be vaccinated as possible for others' protection, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Medicine, said on Newsmax Tuesday.
"His immune system was not adequate to protect him," Jha said on Newsmax's "Wake Up America." "That's why you have a breakthrough infection that unfortunately ended up killing him. This is part of what happens. This is the reason we want to have high levels of immunity in the population. There are vulnerable people among us who need us to protect them. It's not just about us. It's about them as well."
Powell was fully vaccinated, but also was being treated for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that affected his immune system, said Jha, who stressed that he did not treat Powell and was basing his comments on reports about the retired general's death.
"Blood cancers like multiple myeloma are very, very serious," said Jha. "Also you don't get the same immune response from the vaccine because your immune system, your immune cells, your white blood cells are actually involved in the cancer itself. What we know is that he was fully vaccinated, got both shots, but had not yet had a chance to get a booster."
Jha added that he didn't have the details about what treatment Powell was getting, but said a booster shot may or may not have helped save his life.
"The bottom line is that people with cancer who are immune-compromised are helped by a booster," Jha said. "How much they're helped really varies based on their specific cancer, their specific therapy. It would have helped, but whether it would have been enough for him, I don't know."
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 vaccines are "terrific" even if they don't prevent all breakthrough infections, Jha said.
"They are about 80% to 90% protective for preventing infections, and they're even more protective for hospitalization," he said. "If you think about it in a typical day in America over the last month, we've had 150,000 infections in a day. I wouldn't be surprised if 1,000 or 2,000 of those are people who had a breakthrough ... some of them will even end up dying."
But most of those people are compromised and chronically ill, said Jha, and "the bottom line is the vaccines are terrific. They're not 100%, nothing is 100%, and these vaccines get close, but they're not. But they're not 100% just to be clear."
Jha also commented on the upcoming time when young children will be able to get vaccinations and said that he believes that as more get their shots, "we can absolutely pull back on masking" in schools.
"I have very much have always been of the opinion that that really should be driven by vaccination numbers and infection numbers in the community," said Jha. "As vaccinations go up, infection numbers will come down as that happens. We should absolutely pull the mask mandates and let kids be in school."
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