Pharmacist accused of spoiling hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses released from police custody

PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. — The fired Wisconsin pharmacist suspected of intentionally spoiling more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine was released from custody Monday, while prosecutors determine if the charges being considered against him are legitimate.

Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, confessed to police that he deliberately tried to ruin the vaccines because he was concerned the inoculations could alter people’s DNA, WISN reported.

>> Read more trending news

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 uses messenger RNA to “deliver instructions for human cells to make a piece of protein like that found on COVID-19, and the body then begins building immunities against that and the coronavirus.”

The technology does not alter human DNA.

Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, told the Journal Sentinel that Brandenburg left 57 vials – each containing about 10 doses of the vaccine – at room temperature the nights of Dec. 24 and 25.

Brandenburg was arrested Dec. 31, the day after Aurora Health Care Medical Group officials determined that his failure one week earlier to refrigerate the vials of Moderna vaccine had been intentional. The hospital stated that it fired Brandenburg.

Brandenburg had been held at the Ozaukee County Jail on a probable cause statement from Grafton police stating that he likely committed two felonies: first-degree recklessly endangering safety and criminal damage to property.

During Monday’s virtual court appearance, however, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol told Circuit Judge Paul Malloy that the hospital had “walked back” some of the information on which police had relied and said that the vials in question remain in the hospital’s possession and may even possibly still be viable, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Gerol, who is working with Moderna to possibly test the vials previously believed to have been destroyed, said that if the doses are still effective, the most he could charge Brandenburg with would be attempted criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor, the newspaper reported.

According to WISN, the judge set a $10,000 signature bond, and Brandenburg must surrender all his firearms to sheriff’s deputies, is prohibited from working in the health care field and is barred from having any contact with Aurora employees.

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services opened an investigation into Brandenburg’s professional actions as a licensed pharmacist following his arrest, but he does not have a record of professional misconduct, WISN reported.

More coronavirus pandemic coverage:

>> Coronavirus: CDC acknowledges airborne transmission of COVID-19

>> Is it COVID-19, flu, cold or allergies? What is causing you to feel sick this year

>> Coronavirus: CDC updates guidance for COVID-19 testing

>> Dangerous hand sanitizer list up to more than 150 products, FDA announces

>> Wash your masks: How to clean a cloth face covering

>> Fact check: Will masks lower the oxygen level, raise the carbon dioxide in your blood?

>> How to not let coronavirus pandemic fatigue set in, battle back if it does