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A Wisconsin pharmacist will have his license suspended, pending the outcome of upcoming hearings, after he allegedly destroyed hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in late December, a state board ruled this week.
Steven Brandenburg, an Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist, will have his license suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee reports. The Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board agreed to the suspension during a meeting Wednesday afternoon. No criminal charges have been filed yet in the case.
Brandenburg was arrested in late December following an investigation into what happened to 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine, which were tampered with, according to officials. The vials contained enough doses of the vaccine to inoculate more than 500 people against the potentially deadly virus.
While officials at the hospital initially said that the vials were spoiled, they now say they have not been destroyed and may still be usable, Patch reported. If the vaccine doses are still viable, Brandenburg could be charged with attempted criminal property damage, a misdemeanor, rather than the felony charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety and criminal damage to property he is currently expected to face.
“He’d formed this belief they were unsafe,” Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said during a virtual hearing. He added that Brandenburg was upset because he and his wife are divorcing. An Aurora employee said Brandenburg had taken a gun to work twice, Gerol said.
A detective wrote in a probable cause statement that Brandenburg, 46, is an admitted conspiracy theorist and that he told investigators he intentionally tried to ruin the vaccine because it could hurt people by changing their DNA.
Misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines has surged online over the past months, with false claims circulating on everything from the vaccines’ ingredients to its possible side effects.
One of the earliest false claims suggested that the new vaccines could alter DNA. The Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines rely on messenger RNA or mRNA, which is a fairly new technology that experts have been working on using in vaccines for years. MRNA vaccines help train the immune system to identify the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus and create an immune response.
Experts have said there is no truth to the claims that the vaccines can genetically modify humans.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that data from clinical trials demonstrates that benefits of the vaccines outweigh any known potential harms.
Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr has said that 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 Dec. 26.
A pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator on Dec. 26. Bahr said Brandenburg initially told him he had removed the vials to access other items in the refrigerator and had inadvertently failed to put them back. 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.
Bahr said the doses people received Dec. 26 are all but useless. But Gerol said during the hearing that the vials were actually retained and Moderna would need to test the doses to make sure they’re ineffective before he can file charges.
Brandenburg’s wife of eight years filed for divorce in June. The couple has two small children.
According to an affidavit his wife filed on Dec. 30, the day before Brandenburg was arrested in the vaccine tampering, he stopped off at her house and dropped off a water purifier and two 30-day supplies of food, telling her that the world was “crashing down” and she was in denial. She said he told her that the government was planning cyberattacks and would shut down the power grid.
She added that he was storing food in bulk along with guns in rental units. She no longer felt safe around him, according to the affidavit. A court commissioner on Monday found that Brandenburg’s children were in imminent danger and temporarily prohibited them from staying with him. Online court records indicate Brandenburg’s divorce attorney withdrew from the case on Dec. 28.
A judge ordered Brandenburg to be released on a $10,000 signature bond last week. He has a status hearing scheduled for Jan. 19.
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