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Doctors: Number of people who have died after getting vaccine 'minuscule'

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 and are hospitalized or

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 and are hospitalized or die generally have underlying conditions, which weaken their ability to fight back against a virus, said Dr. David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

People who think Colin Powell’s death from COVID-19 shows the vaccines don’t work are wrong, medical experts on Long Island said Monday, citing among other things that the former U.S. secretary of state was weakened by a blood disease.

Powell, 84, died Monday of COVID-19 complications, his family said. Powell had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the family said.

It "would be entirely the wrong message to send" that the vaccines don’t work, said Dr. David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health. "The number of deaths of people who have died after being vaccinated is minuscule."

Powell suffered from multiple myeloma, which made his immune system substantially weak, Battinelli said. That, along with his age, made it difficult to fight off the virus.

At least 90% of people who are hospitalized or die from COVID-19 are not vaccinated, Battinelli and other experts said. Those who are vaccinated and are hospitalized or die generally have underlying conditions, which weaken their ability to fight back against a virus, they said.

"The vaccines absolutely work. The data is overwhelming that the vaccines are highly effective," said Dr. Jeffrey Schneider, chief of Hematology/Oncology at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. "There’s a small minority of the population that doesn’t respond well because of an immunological deficit."

He said Powell’s death actually is an argument for more people to get vaccinated.

"If everybody around him had been vaccinated, then … the chances of his exposure would have been far less since they would not be spreading the virus," Schneider said.

He added that Powell’s age was not necessarily the main factor in his death, since "the vaccine is actually highly effective in elderly people if they don’t have one of these compromising illnesses."

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of health care epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, said using Powell as a "poster child for why vaccines don’t work … would be a terrible injustice to all of the good things that have been happening with vaccinations."

"There have been many, many people who have been vaccinated who fortunately have done well, even as elderly, even with underlying conditions because of the vaccines," she said.

"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Donelan added.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that even though the state is trying to return to normalcy, COVID-19 remains a threat and more people need to get vaccinated.

"Many New Yorkers have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and are returning to normal life, but we can't get complacent," Hochul said. "We have to get more New Yorkers vaccinated, end the pandemic and revitalize our economy. Lives still hang in the balance, and I'm urging everyone who hasn't gotten a shot yet to consider their friends, families and loved ones and use the vaccine to help end this pandemic for all of us."

COVID-19 indicators continued to level off or drop on Long Island after a summer surge fueled by the delta variant.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus was 2.68% on Long Island, as it continued a slow descent from figures above 4% during the summer.

The number of new daily cases in test results from Sunday was 127 in Nassau County and 176 in Suffolk County. Those figures were low compared to recent weeks, but Sunday is also typically a day when fewer people get tested.

Across the state, 28 people died on Sunday of causes linked to COVID-19, including three in Suffolk, according to state data.

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