WASHINGTON — Time after time, when a celebrity or politician passes away, people online begin speculating the cause of death.
That’s been especially true during the coronavirus pandemic, and the death of General Colin Powell is no exception.
On October 18, Powell's family posted on Facebook that the former U.S. Secretary of State had died of "complications from COVID-19" and said he had been fully vaccinated.
Unfortunately, some people misinterpreted Powell's death as proof that the COVID vaccines are ineffective, despite the fact that he was elderly and immunocompromised.
"So vaccines don't work then?! Noted.," one person wrote on Twitter.
"No, the vaccine just doesn’t work at all. It’s 0% effective," another person wrote.
The VERIFY team looked at national breakthrough infection case data which resulted in hospitalization and death to show that just because a fully vaccinated person can become very sick or dies, that does not mean the vaccines "aren't working."
Our Verify researchers looked at CDC data and got context from Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
The CDC has been tracking breakthrough infections, meaning cases where a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, which resulted in death or hospitalization.
As of October 12, CDC recorded 7,178 reports of breakthrough deaths and an additional 24,717 non-fatal hospitalizations. The majority of these cases involved patients who were 65 or older.
A small percentage, 13% and 15% respectively, were "asymptomatic or not COVID-related."
"Includes cases in which the patient did not have symptoms of COVID-19, or their hospitalization or death was not COVID-related," the CDC says. "For example, people may be hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19, such as an auto accident, and test positive when screened upon hospital admission."
So let's put this into perspective.
When our Verify researchers last checked vaccination data at around 1 p.m. on October 18, 189.1 million people had been fully vaccinated nationwide.
That means the chances of being hospitalized with COVID after being fully vaccinated is 0.01%, or one person out of 10,000 fully vaccinated people. The chance of death is 0.004% or four out of 100,000 fully vaccinated people.
This means it's not just rare to get really sick or die after completing the COVID vaccine series, it's very rare.
"None of us ever thought that the vaccines would be 100% effective; so of course, we expected some persons, vaccinated nonetheless, getting serious disease," Dr. William Schaffner, said. "The frail among us, the older among us, those are the folks who are more likely to have these serious breakthrough infections. That was expected on day one.”
As for those who are unvaccinated, the rates of hospitalization and death are far greater.
"Well over 90% of people who are hospitalized today with serious COVID are the unvaccinated among us—over 90%!," Schaffner said. "So this vast majority of serious disease is still occurring among folks who have not availed themselves of the benefits of vaccination.”
In fact, according to a CDC graph showing a snapshot of COVID death rates from 16 jurisdictions, in August alone, they estimated an unvaccinated person was 11.3 times more likely to die from COVID. Between April 4-September 4, unvaccinated individuals 80 years older and older were at the greatest risk of death, followed by those unvaccinated between 65 and 79 and those unvaccinated between 50-64.
Simply put, some severe breakthrough cases are inevitable; but, the odds of being hospitalized with COVID or dying from it, are much higher if you are not vaccinated.