The founder of the multinational Hillsong Church told CNN that Covid-19 vaccines are a “personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals” after a congregant who publicly refused inoculation died of complications from the disease.
Hillsong Church global senior pastor Brian Houston had announced the death of Stephen Harmon, who attended Hillsong in California, on social media this week.
Harmon had said on social media that he would not receive the vaccine, even when he was fighting Covid-19 in a hospital this month.
“Stephen was just a young man in his early 30s,” Houston wrote, announcing Harmon’s death on social media. “He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him.”
Houston expanded on his social media posts in a statement to CNN, saying that “any loss of life is a moment to mourn and offer support to those who are suffering and so our heartfelt prayers are with his family and those who loved him.”
“On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors,” Houston said, emphasizing that the church’s focus was on spiritual well-being.
“While many of our staff, leadership and congregation have already received the Covid-19 vaccine, we recognize this is a personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals,” Houston’s statement reads.
Hillsong Church, founded in Australia, has congregations around the world. Harmon attended Hillsong in Los Angeles, CNN affiliate KCBS reported.
CNN sought comment from the Harmon family but did not receive a response.
Prior to him saying he was infected with Covid-19, Harmon made two posts on Twitter on June 3 in which he parodied Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” lyrics – saying he had 99 problems but “a vax” wasn’t one.
Just over a month later, Harmon had pneumonia as a result of Covid-19 infection and was sitting in a hospital bed in a Covid ward, according to his Instagram posts.
He had been hospitalized with Covid-19 complications since at least June 30, according to his social media posts. Throughout his hospitalizations, social media posts show that Harmon kept in frequent contact with Houston.
Even while in a hospital, Harmon was adamant that he would not receive the vaccine, posting he wasn’t “anti-vax” but was “pro information.”
“i’m not against it, i’m just not in a rush to get it,” he wrote in a July 8 Instagram post. “Ironically, as I continue to lay here … in my covid ward isolation room fighting off the virus and pneumonia.”
He added he wouldn’t get a vaccine even after recovery.
“Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyors’ really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmovingdork,” Harmon wrote the same day on Twitter.
On Friday, after his death was announced, Harmon’s Instagram account was made private.
CNN’s Jason Hanna contributed to this report.