A Wisconsin pharmacist and “admitted conspiracy theorist” accused of destroying hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine over the holidays carried out the sabotage attempt because he believed the vaccination would mutate people’s DNA, according to new court documents.
Steven Brandenburg, an Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist, was arrested last week after authorities alleged he tried to destroy 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine by intentionally leaving the vials out of the refrigeration system overnight, according to The Associated Press.
Officials have determined that the vials would have been able to inoculate more than 500 people against COVID-19.
“He’d formed this belief that they were unsafe,” Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said in a virtual court meeting, according to local station WISN. “His intent was to destroy the medication. He did the things that he was accused of.”
A probable cause statement from a Grafton police detective also alleged that Brandenburg told investigators that he had committed the “intentional act” because he believed the vaccine “was not safe for people and could harm them and change the DNA,” CBS News reports.
The detective referred to the pharmacist as an “admitted conspiracy theorist.”
Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr said that Brandenburg admitted to taking the vials from the refrigeration system on Dec. 24 and leaving them out overnight before returning them to their rightful place. He allegedly left the vials out a second time overnight on Dec. 25 until they were discovered the following morning by a pharmacy technician, The Associated Press reports.
Bahr said Brandenburg had told the technician that he had taken the vials out to reach other items and forgot to put them back in, before later admitting to police that he had intentionally taken them out.
The vials are still viable without refrigeration for 12 hours. The FDA recommends the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine be stored frozen between -25 degrees C to -15 degrees C, according to a fact sheet provided by the government agency.
The medical center administered the vaccine to 57 people before setting aside the remaining doses, estimated to cost between $8,000 and $11,000.
The specific charges against Brandenburg are still pending as prosecutors try to determine whether the vaccines were actually rendered ineffective by Bradenburg’s alleged actions.
“And apparently the only way they can discover that or tell us that is if they test them. It’s unknown how much time that will take,” Gerol said, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
That determination will likely influence the severity of the charges against the pharmacist—who has already been fired by the medical center.
Gerol said several of Brandenburg’s coworkers also said the pharmacist had brought a firearm to work on two occasions.
According to the prosecutor, Brandenburg had been upset because his wife of eight years filed for divorce in June. The couple share two young children.
In an affidavit filed at the end of December as part of the divorce proceedings, Brandenburg’s wife alleged that he had come to her house on Dec. 6 with a water purifier and two 30-day supplies of food, the Associated Press reports. He told her that he believed the world was “crashing down” and that the government was planning cyber attacks that would shut down the power grid, she said.
The woman reported that Brandenburg had also been hoarding his own supply of food—along with guns—in rental units and said she did not feel safe around him any longer. A judge on Monday ordered that he be temporarily prevented from seeing his children.
In the criminal proceedings, a judge set Brandenburg’s bond at $10,000. As conditions of the bail, he was ordered to surrender his firearms, have no contact with staff at Advocate Aurora Health and was also banned from working in health care or administering vaccinations.
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