Former Aurora pharmacist accused of destroying COVID-19 vaccine doses says he believed it could change patients’ DNA

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Steve Brandenburg, the former pharmacist who allegedly removed COVID-19 vaccine vials from refrigeration at the Aurora Medical Center – Grafton, says he believed the vaccine could harm patients and change their DNA, according to a police statement.

The 46-year-old Grafton resident appeared in court Monday via Zoom from Ozaukee County Jail, following his arrest on Dec. 31.

According to a probable cause statement from Grafton police, Brandenburg told investigators that he removed 57 vaccine vials from refrigerated storage at the medical center because he believed it was not safe and it could harm patients and change their DNA, WISN-TV Channel 12 reported. Channel 12 is a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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False statements claiming the COVID-19 vaccine will irreversibly change a person’s DNA have been widely circulated online.

While messenger RNA vaccines are some of the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., the mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA, according to the CDC.

A Grafton police report said Brandenburg intentionally removed the vaccine to render them ineffective, knowing those who were given the vaccine would think they had been inoculated against the virus when they actually were not. The affected vials amounted to about 570 doses of the vaccine.

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Brandenburg was released from jail following his Monday court appearance. Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said it is unclear if the vials Brandenburg allegedly removed were destroyed or damaged. Gerol said he needs clarification from Aurora and the vaccine’s manufacturer, Moderna, might also test the evidence to determine if it still viable, the WISN-TV report said.

Brandenburg had been held on a probable cause statement by Grafton police. Police recommended felony charges of First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Adulterating a Prescription Drug and Criminal Damage to Property. Those charges could be reduced to a misdemeanor charge if the vaccine is still intact.

Brandenburg is now free on signature bond, which was set at $10,000, according to WISN.

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The value of the affected vaccine is estimated to be between $8,000 and $11,000.

Fifty-seven people on Dec. 26 received the vaccine that was later determined to be potentially ineffective once it was discovered to have been removed from refrigeration, according to Aurora. The medical center then discarded the remaining 513 affected doses.

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