Wis. Pharmacist Believed COVID-19 Vaccine Could Change People's DNA: Officials

A Wisconsin judge set a $10,000 signature bond for the suspect Monday

A Wisconsin pharmacist accused of spoiling hundreds of doses of a coronavirus vaccine believed it could harm people and change their DNA, according to court documents revealed Monday.

Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg was arrested last week following an investigation into more than 500 spoiled doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

Brandenburg appeared in court Monday on charges of first degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property.

Brandenburg is an admitted conspiracy theorist who told investigators he believed that the COVID-19 vaccine was not safe for people, could harm them and change their DNA, according to a probable cause statement by Grafton Police Department Det. Sgt. Eric Sutherland.

The vaccine does not alter a person's DNA, according to health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine is what is called an mRNA vaccine, or messenger RNA, relatively new technology that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.

"mRNA is not able to alter or modify a person’s genetic makeup (DNA). The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept," the CDC stated. "This means the mRNA does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. 

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Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said during a virtual court hearing Monday that the pharmacist was upset because he was in the midst of divorcing his wife, and an Aurora employee said Brandenburg had taken a gun to work twice.

Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr has said Brandenburg admitted that he deliberately removed the vials from refrigeration at the Grafton medical center overnight on Dec. 24 into Dec. 25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25 into Saturday.

A pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator on Dec. 26.

The Moderna vaccine is viable for 12 hours outside refrigeration, so workers used the vaccine to inoculate 57 people before discarding the rest. Police said the discarded doses were worth between $8,000 and $11,000.

Judge Paul Malloy set a $10,000 signature bond for Brandenburg and ordered him to surrender all his firearms to sheriff’s deputies, not to work in the health care field and to have no contact with Aurora employees.

Aurora Health said in a press release last week that the situation was a "violation of our core values" and that the pharmacist had been fired.

"We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual's actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine," the medical center said.

The unrefrigerated doses of vaccine were distributed to patients, Grafton Police found, but officials at Aurora health said the spoiled vaccine posed no health concerns. Police estimated the value of the destroyed vaccine doses to be between $8,500 and $11,000.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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