The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why we need passive immunity

Former secretary of state Colin Powell takes part in an onstage interview at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington in September 2015.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell takes part in an onstage interview at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington in September 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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The recent tragic death of former secretary of state and retired Gen. Colin L. Powell from the coronavirus does not prove that vaccines don’t work but does point out their limitations in some populations.    

Sadly, vaccines, though effective for most, may not protect the most vulnerable, those with impaired immunity, even if one is a great soldier [“You’re not ‘fully vaccinated.’ You never will be.,” Outlook, Oct. 24]. Blood cancers — including multiple myeloma, which Powell had, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) — impair the immune response to vaccines and explain why such patients have more than 10 times the number of breakthrough infections post-vaccination and why they get sicker and die much more often of covid-19 compared with the general population. The positive results of “passive immunity” using pre-exposure monoclonal anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies for covid prevention for those at high risk offer fresh hope. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing trial data.

Meanwhile, will another death wake up the public to the need to protect its most vulnerable by reaching herd immunity through vaccinations and natural infections? Honestly, I doubt it, but I can hope. I hope for something missing in these increasingly tribal times: compassion for each other.

Brian Koffman, Chula Vista, Calif.

The writer is co-founder, executive vice president and chief medical officer of the CLL Society.

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