Former Secretary of State Colin Powell died Monday due to complications from COVID-19. Right-wing media quickly jumped to use his death as an example of their new favorite anti-vaccine narrative: highlighting coronavirus deaths among fully vaccinated people to downplay the vaccines’ effectiveness.
Powell was reportedly fully vaccinated according to his family’s statement. However, he was also immunocompromised as an 84-year-old with Parkinson's disease and multiple myeloma, which hurts the body’s ability to respond to infections and significantly reduces the production of antibodies that fight COVID-19 after vaccination.
Vaccinated people are still at least 10 times less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than the unvaccinated. However, the immunocompromised are a group that benefit from herd immunity in the larger population since preexisting conditions may reduce their body's ability to fight the virus. Nevertheless, Powell’s death has become a catalyst for right-wing media outlets to cast doubt on the vaccine’s efficacy.
On Monday night, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson told his audience that “you've been lied to” about vaccine efficacy. After centering the story on Powell’s death, Carlson broadened his point to make it appear as if a wider trend is occurring, claiming that “many thousands of vaccinated Americans have died of COVID.”
Carlson was not alone in using Powell’s breakthrough infection to attack the media and create an alarmist and false narrative that vaccinated people are dying from COVID-19 at concerning rates:
- Fox reporter John Roberts said in a since-deleted tweet, “The fact that Colin Powell died from a breakthrough COVID infection raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term,” without mention of Powell’s underlying condition.
- Guest co-host of Fox & Friends Will Cain remarked, “We are beginning to see statistics like this grow in frequency. We know that the vaccine does wane overtime in its ability to protect you from not just transmission and infection but from severe complications and hospitalization, and obviously death as well. We know it's beginning to spill over, COVID, into the vaccinated population.”
- Guest hosting Fox News Primetime, Cain told his audience “it is notable” that “Powell died while fully vaccinated, but that observation and any questions that it may raise are violations of the one true commandment: Thou shall get the shot -- or shots, however many shots.” He later added, “This does not inspire much confidence. The vaccine seems to wear off. It does not offer permanent protection from transmission.”
- In a segment promoting “natural immunity” and criticizing vaccine effectiveness, Fox host Laura Ingraham highlighted Powell’s death as an example of someone who died after being “double vaccinated.” She went on to claim, “It's happening all over the country, unfortunately.”
- Right-wing radio host Christopher Arps appeared on Newsmax and asked, “How will his death affect the call for mask and vaccine mandates since he was fully vaccinated?”
- Newsmax’s Shaun Kraisman responded to Powell’s death of COVID-19 complications by saying, “How does this happen? His family said he was fully vaccinated.” He later added, “We continue to hear that you get this vaccine and it won’t happen, so there will be questions about it.”
- The Blaze’s Steven Crowder accused CNN of “engineering of the news. This is them wanting to lead you away from the scent of the truth” because CNN anchor Jim Sciutto left out that Powell was fully vaccinated in his initial tweet.
- Infowars host Alex Jones told viewers that Powell “took the Pfizer shot” and proved that “you're way more likely to end up in the hospital or dead” if you are fully vaccinated.
- Breitbart called on Powell’s vaccination status “a revelation that is certain to fuel the continuing controversy about vaccines and mandates.”
- Far-right conspiracy theory outlet the Gateway Pundit underscored Powell’s vaccination status in a brief blog post, writing: “General Colin Powell, former secretary of state and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died today from coronavirus. He was fully vaccinated.”
- The right-wing Epoch Times reported, “The death comes despite Powell being fully vaccinated against the CCP virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19,” without any acknowledgement of his comorbidities.
- Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren tweeted: