By Brian Niemietz
For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.
New York: A California vaccine sceptic and Hillsong church member said to have “so much in front of him” has died from COVID-19.
Stephen Harmon, a member of the Los Angeles megachurch where Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Chris Pratt have reportedly sat in attendance, lost his battle on Wednesday. He was aged 34, according to reports.
News of his death was announced by Hillsong pastor Brian Houston on Twitter, in a post that has since been deleted.
“He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him,” Houston wrote.
The Australian 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”.
According to Harmon’s Twitter feed, which was made private on Friday, his scepticism over vaccination succumbed to concern after he was hospitalised earlier this month.
“Please pray y’all, they really want to intubate me and put me on a ventilator,” he wrote Sunday. “If you don’t have faith that God can heal me over your stupid ventilator then keep the Hell out of my ICU room, there’s no room in here for fear or lack of faith.”
Harmon later tweeted that he had decided to opt for intubation as his condition worsened.
His previous posts, though still defiant, also appeared flippant. On June 3, he posted one entry paraphrasing Jay-Z’s rap classic 99 Problems.
“If you’re having email problems, I feel bad for you, son,” he tweeted. “I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one.”
CBS news said Harmon lived in Corona, California. He described himself on Twitter as being “Passionate for people, inspired by vision, determined by conviction.”
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week that the nation was facing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Meanwhile, a conservative Tennessee-based talk radio host has changed his previously sceptical messaging on vaccines after being hospitalised with COVID-19, his family said.
Phil Valentine, who has posted on social media dissuading his audience from getting vaccinated if they aren’t “in danger of dying” from COVID, has been hospitalised in the critical care unit and is receiving supplemental oxygen, but is not on a ventilator, according to his brother.
Valentine told listeners after being diagnosed — but before being hospitalised — that he chose not to get a COVID vaccine because he thought he probably wouldn’t die from the disease.
His brother, Mark Valentine, said on WWTN-FM in Nashville this week that his brother has never been an “anti-vaxxer,” but was “pro-information” and “pro-choice” regarding the vaccine.
“First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination,” Mark Valentine said. “For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’”
In December, 2020, as vaccines were just beginning to roll out in the US, Phil Valentine wrote in a blog post that he probably had a very low chance of getting COVID.
Tennessee has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and new cases have been on the rise in July as the highly spreadable delta variant is now responsible for the majority of cases in the country.
Mark Valentine said he got vaccinated after his brother’s sickness. A post on the station’s Facebook page from the family says that Valentine plans to advocate for vaccinations once he recovers and returns to the airwaves.
“Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!” his family said in the statement.