‘High Risk’ Means Always Staying Vigilant

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by Calvin Harris |

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As I write this, I just learned of the passing of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Admittedly, Powell had so many achievements that I’m not sure which title is most appropriate — general, secretary, or chairman.

In the coming days and weeks, no doubt many words will be written and articles published to pay tribute to the life of this man. As a Black man in college when Powell first attained national prominence, I found it easy to view him as the trailblazer he was. While his politics didn’t consistently match mine, he was still a giant of a man in my eyes.

But his lifetime of service isn’t what caught my eye in the New York Times article I read following his passing. What caught my eye was that Powell died from COVID-19 as a fully vaccinated immunocompromised person.

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The world has been in some form of COVID-19 disruption for over 18 months. The changes in our lives, and in science, during this time will undoubtedly be reviewed and analyzed historically for years to come. Beyond the remarkable scientific achievements, long-needed discussions on racial and social justice have also taken place.

Yet, for those of us with a rare disease like sarcoidosis, these times are also marked by seemingly unending challenges of managing our health, both physical and mental.

Because of the medicines I take, such as the frequently prescribed corticosteroid prednisone, I am immunocompromised. But without these medications, my lungs will eventually struggle. So, it’s a medical choice with only sad options. Either I take medications that make me immunocompromised and put me at a greater risk for COVID-19 and other illnesses, or I don’t take them and allow sarcoidosis to do bad things to my lungs, skin, and bones.

Either way, I’m high risk, so taking all of this medicine is an easy choice for me. With medications, I’m able to have something that resembles a “normal” life, albeit with a major challenge to my immune system.

At this point, I’ve had three Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shots, including a booster two months ago. I’ve already added shots for flu and pneumonia. I’ve done all the things medically possible to prepare my body for the current pandemic.

Yet, as my doctor at the Johns Hopkins Sarcoidosis Clinic told me, vaccine efficacy isn’t always the same for immunocompromised folks like me. The vaccine may work for me, or it may not. Similar observations have been made by the experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While I’m saddened that others like me have passed away from COVID-19 complications, Powell is the first famous person I recognized who died from COVID-19 while immunocompromised and fully vaccinated.

Selfishly, it makes me worry about my own safety and that of others like me. Unfortunately, even when you know something is possible, sometimes seeing it happen to someone you know, or know of, makes it all the more real.

Now, will Powell’s death change my habits? Well, I’m already quite careful with crowds and sanitation, and I consistently wear a mask the moment I leave my home. But if anything, it is a reminder to me to stay vigilant and be careful. As fellow Sarcoidosis News columnist Charlton Harris (no relation, as far as I know) says, “We Can’t Let Fear Take Us Down a Rabbit Hole.”

Because as much as we sarcoidosis warriors want to feel “normal,” sometimes “high risk” means we have to embrace the unusual to be responsible. Our health depends on it.

Rest in Peace, Sir.


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.


Janet Bradley avatar

Janet Bradley

Can you please advise me with pulmonary sarcoidosis . I have been in remission for 15 years but am having bad symptoms of my lymphatic system in the last year . My age is 79 and I have not taken the vaccine as I am worried about increased inflammation. Could I qualify for a medical exemption ?

Janet avatar


Did Colin Powell not have cancer? If he had the Vaccine ,why did it not protect him from getting the virus ?


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