Prosecutors say a Wisconsin pharmacist tried to destroy more than 500 COVID-19 vaccine doses because of false beliefs that the vaccine is not safe.
Steven Brandenburg was arrested Thursday and fired from a suburban Milwaukee hospital after he allegedly removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a pharmacy refrigerator. The vials contained more than 500 doses of the vaccine.
On Monday, the 47-year-old pharmacist appeared in a virtual court hearing, where Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said he had intentionally tried to destroy the vaccines.
"He'd formed this belief they were unsafe," Gerol said in court, according to the Associated Press.
According to a probable cause statement filed by the Grafton Police Department, a detective referred to Brandenburg as an "admitted conspiracy theorist" who believed the vaccine could alter people's DNA — which it cannot.
In fact, COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna's, have been tested for safety and authorized by the Food and Drug Administration after a series of clinical trials.
The Moderna vaccine uses the genetic material mRNA, but it does not alter people's DNA. Side effects for most people are mild to moderate, including chills, fatigue, and headache.
The vaccine is also 94% effective against the virus.
Gerol in court reportedly added that the pharmacist had been upset because he was going through a divorce and had allegedly taken a gun to work on two occasions.
Grafton police said the former Advocate Aurora Health Hospital employee had admitted in a written statement to removing the vaccine from the refrigerator overnight on Dec. 24, then again overnight on Dec. 25.
The unrefrigerated vials were discovered by a pharmacy technician the following day. Before the incident was reported, officials said, 57 people were given vaccines that had been left out of the refrigerator for hours and, therefore, were likely not effective any more.
Grafton detectives said in a statement that Brandenburg knew the spoiled vials would be useless and that people who received doses would think they had been successfully vaccinated.
Vials of the Moderna vaccine are shipped refrigerated at a temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit and may be stored in a refrigerator for up to 30 days. They are able to remain at room temperature for about half a day.
The vaccines are estimated to have been worth between $8,000 and $10,000.
On Monday, Brandenburg was released from Ozaukee county jail after being ordered not to contact his former coworkers and surrender all his firearms.
Since his arrest, he had been held on a $10,000 bond on suspicion of criminal damage to property and recklessly endangering safety.
In court, Gerol said the tampered vials would be tested by Moderna to see if the doses were in fact ineffective now, and prosecutors would then decide whether to pursue other charges.