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Opinion: Anti-vaxxers are weaponizing Colin Powell’s death to spread COVID-19 misinformation

Nov 04, 2021


General Colin Powell‘s death from COVID-19 complications sparked great national interest as it should have, considering he was a decorated military officer who served his country with distinction for decades, in addition to serving as Secretary of State. But Powell’s death has been turned into a vicious attempt to spread lies about COVID-19 vaccines and their effectiveness.

Many in the anti-vaccine camp, including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, cite Powell’s death as proof COVID-19 vaccines don’t work. Except they are leaving out key details, like the fact that Powell was battling numerous health issues that greatly compromised his immune system and put him at greater risk, even after being vaccinated.

Carlson used his top-rated prime-time show to declare that people are “being lied to” about the vaccines. The truth is, the one lying about COVID-19 vaccines on an almost nightly basis is Carlson.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell has, uh, passed away as a result of complications from COVID at the age of 84. He was also severely immunocompromised, uh, fighting multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, as well as Parkinson’s. And this has become a boon for anti-vaxxers just foaming at the mouth to point to specifically Colin Powell’s death, as some kind of evidence that vaccines don’t really work as Tucker Carlson claimed that we’re being lied to about the vaccines. None of this is true, and it’s important to really understand this piece by piece. Now, first of all, there is no vaccine that is 100%. And so we knew all along from the clinical trials, the vaccines weren’t even claimed to be 100% effective in the clinical trials. They are not 100% effective at preventing people from getting COVID. And over time, as hundreds of millions into billions of people are vaccinated, you would expect that unfortunately by sheer statistics, by sheer chance, by sheer distribution, some of them are going to get sick.

Some of them are going to get sick enough to be hospitalized. And some of those vaccinated people are going to die. Now, what is true is that at every age and at every level of health, you were better off being vaccinated. So if you say, well, let’s look only at 35 year olds who are obese. For example, vaccinated obese 35 year olds are better off and have better outcomes than unvaccinated 35 year old obese people. In this case, if we say, let’s look at people in their eighties with cancer, and Parkinson’s, you would find that although both groups have a higher COVID death rate than 20 year olds, the vaccinated group does better than the unvaccinated group, but shoot through sheer statistics and distribution, normal distribution, some of the vaccinated 84 year olds with cancer are going to die when they get COVID. And some are not. 

The fact that we now have a name, Colin Powell, who was a vaccinated immunocompromised, 84 year old, that died, Doesn’t change anything. 

We already knew that with hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered in the United States, a few thousand vaccinated people had died. What we find is that the death rate among the vaccinated is orders of magnitude lower than the death rate among the unvaccinated.

That we know and that continues to be true. And so all of these different claims that are being made and we’ll talk about some of them are made either in bad faith or by people who misunderstand just basic statistics. Fox reporter John Roberts tweeted, and then deleted that Colin Powell specific death, the fact that Colin Powell specifically died really changes our understanding and should really make us question the efficacy of the vaccine. No, it doesn’t. No, it doesn’t. 

An 84 year old immunocompromised individual who died despite being vaccinated. Doesn’t change the fact that we knew that COVID hardest hits the older and the immunocompromised, two groups of which Colin Powell was a member doesn’t make his death any less sad.

Doesn’t change the political history and legacy of Colin Powell, which we’ve talked about already. Not going to talk about that more right now. It doesn’t actually change that.

Tucker Carlson from Fox news actually went even further. Um, and the night that we learned, the day that we learned Colin Powell died that night on his program. Tucker Carlson said, this proves we’ve been lied to about the vaccine. That’s not true at all. We’ve not been, we’ve only been lied to. You would only think you’ve been lied to if someone has been lying to you about how the vaccines work. Only if someone came to you and said, “these people claim no vaccinated people die. And now a vaccinated person died. If you had been told that you might wrongly think, oh, that they’ve been lying about the vaccines, but that’s not what the science community has actually been saying about vaccination and Tucker straight up saying we’ve been lied to is not true. And at the very end of his show mentioned, oh, by the way earlier, when we talked about Colin Powell dying, I didn’t mention that he had a number of health challenges that he was dealing with 84 year old with cancer and Parkinson’s. 84 year old with cancer and Parkinson’s.

So really this is instructive in two ways. One, the degree of right-wing propaganda and the weaponization of anecdotes is something that we can only fight with better media literacy education and better critical thinking skills. If you, if you are better equipped to understand and interpret the messages you get from media, you wouldn’t fall for any of this stuff. You’d say no, a few thousand vaccinated people had died. Colin Powell’s death, while maybe individually notable because of who he was, doesn’t actually change anything about our understanding of the protective nature of vaccines.

That’s sort of one side of it. That’s important to understand and understand that anecdote, an anecdote is merely an anecdote. That’s all it is. It doesn’t tell us everything that we need to know. 

But number two, the desire to monetize and weaponize anti-science views because at the end of the day, Fox news has one of the strictest vaccine requirements of any big corporation we’re aware of. Remember that Joe Biden said, if you’ve got a hundred employees, they’ve got to be vaccinated or test weekly, Fox goes further and says, if you’re un-vaccinated, you need to test daily and you need to be wearing a mask in the offices. Tucker has not mentioned that that is the policy of his own employer one time. But doing this stuff on air is very good for his ratings because the people that watch him, they thrive off of fear. They thrive off of anger. And that’s another piece of it. 

A lot of the people monetizing these anti-science views don’t even believe them themselves, What Tucker actually believes, I don’t know. But he’s certainly a hypocrite when it comes to calling out all of these requirements and, uh, the vaccines and not mentioning, Hey, my employer has like the strictest version of this that we’ve heard of. Um, always understand that when we hear a governor say no mandates, here, there is the governor vaccinated, does the governor require their own staff to be vaccinated? Because oftentimes what they’re doing is very different from what they’re saying.


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