The former Aurora Health Care pharmacist who allegedly tampered with COVID-19 vaccines at a Grafton medical center last month was charged Tuesday with attempted felony criminal damage to property.
Steven Brandenburg, a 46-year-old Grafton resident, faces up to nine months in prison, a $10,000 fine or both, if convicted of the Class A misdemeanor.
Brandenburg, whose license has since been suspended, said in an emailed confession that he removed a box of Moderna vaccines from a refrigerator at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton on two occasions in late December with the purpose of rendering them ineffective, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court.
Brandenburg allegedly removed 57 vials, each of which contained 10 doses, from the refrigerator.
He told investigators he wanted to damage the vaccine because he believed it was unsafe and would alter people’s DNA. Conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines have been widely circulated online. While mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases, those produced by Moderna and Pfizer have both been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. According to the CDC, the mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA.
During a court hearing on Jan. 4, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said Brandenburg could face more serious charges if the affected vaccine doses were rendered less effective. Testing of the affected vaccine doses for efficacy is proceeding, the complaint said.
A Moderna representative said the vaccine would be made less effective if left at room temperature for 24 hours; the affected vaccines were left unrefrigerated for about 12 hours, according to the complaint.
Brandenburg told investigators his alleged vaccine tampering was a “spontaneous act” and that he “wasn’t thinking straight due to ongoing personal matters and lack of sleep,” the complaint said.
He had initially told an Aurora official that he left the vaccines out on accident, but a day later confessed to doing it intentionally, according to the complaint.
Brandenburg is scheduled to appear for initial appearance in court this afternoon.