Brian Houston, founder and global Senior Pastor at Hillsong, said he believes getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a "personal decision" following the virus-related death of one of the church's members.
The Sydney, Australia-based pastor announced the death of Stephen Harmon, 34, on social media last week. The post has since been removed.
"Stephen was just a young man in his early 30s," Houston wrote on Thursday. "He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him."
Harmon had been vocal on social media about his opposition to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Got 99 problems but a vax ain't one," he tweeted to his 7,000 followers in June.
The Hillsong member was treated for pneumonia and COVID-19 in a hospital outside Los Angeles, California, where he died on Wednesday.
In a recent statement to CNN, Houston weighed in on Harmon's death: "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 added. The pastor emphasized that the role of Hillsong in Harmon’s life was to focus on his 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 concluded.
According to CBS News affiliate KCBS, Harmon attended Hillsong Los Angeles.
Harmon had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since June 30 and also got pneumonia while at the hospital. Following his death, the young man's social media page was set to private. However, many outlets have since shared his posts.
In one post, Harmon clarified he was not "anti-vax" but instead was "pro information."
"I’m not against it, I’m just not in a rush to get it," a July 8 post on his Instagram explained. "Ironically, as I continue to lay here ... in my covid ward isolation room fighting off the virus and pneumonia."
Harmon’s last tweet, written the day before his death, read: “I’m choosing to go under intubation, I’ve fought this thing as hard as I can but unfortunately it’s reached a point of critical choice & as much as I hate having to do this I’d rather it be willingness than forced emergency procedure. don’t know when I’ll wake up, please pray.”
Houston’s tribute honoring the Hillsong member clarified that "Stephen's thoughts on vaccines were his own."
"They do not represent the views and thoughts of Hillsong Church. Many of our pastors, staff, and congregation are fully vaccinated and more will be when vaccines become available to them in their countries," Houston noted.
Studies of the vaccines have shown varying rates of effectiveness from contracting the virus and its variants, from 39% to 64% to 88%. However, the vaccines are expected to reduce the severity of infection and reduce the likelihood of hospitalization for many people.
Other studies have shown that people who've already been infected have natural immunity that might last a lifetime.
The CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System database has received over 6,000 reports of death following COVID-19 vaccinations as of July 12, according to the CDC's website, along with thousands of other adverse events.
It's been reported in California that areas with high vaccination rates are seeing an increase in COVID-19 infections, and areas with low vaccination rates are seeing low infection rates. CBS News' Sacramento affiliate reported that this is likely because many vaccinated people are unaware that they can still spread COVID-19 to others who have weaker immune systems, and transmission rates are higher in more densely populated areas.
Jeannie Ortega Law is a reporter for The Christian Post. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org She's also the author of the book, What Is Happening to Me? How to Defeat Your Unseen Enemy Follow her on Twitter: @jlawcp Facebook: JeannieOMusic