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WI pharmacist accused of spoiling COVID vaccines believed they'd mutate people's DNA

He made his first court appearance on Monday.
Steven Brandenburg

The Wisconsin pharmacist accused of spoiling hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine allegedly told police he wanted to ruin them because he believed they'd mutate people's DNA.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, Wisconsin, is accused of spoiling more than 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine after intentionally taking 57 vials of the medicine out of refrigeration on two consecutive nights in late December, the Grafton Police Department said in a news release

Both the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines have to be kept in cold storage, with the Moderna vaccine viable for only 12 hours when not refrigerated.

The now-former pharmacist at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital told police he left the vials out because he felt the vaccines were unsafe, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said during Monday's virtual hearing, according to FOX 6 Now

Apparently, Brandenburg thought the vaccines would mutate people's DNA, court documents say via The Associated Press. A probable cause statement says Brandenburg is an admitted conspiracy theorist.

Gerol noted that Brandenburg was upset because his wife is divorcing him and an Aurora employee said he had taken a gun to work twice, FOX 6 Now said.

Removing the vaccines from the refrigerator made the roughly 570 doses – valued at $8,000-$11,000 –"useless," police said. The doses were administered to people, but there are no health concerns with the spoiled doses.

Police arrested Brandenburg on Dec. 31, 2020, and on Monday he appeared in court for a hearing on possible charges of felony damage to property and second-degree recklessly endangering safety, also a felony, the police department said Tuesday.

However, in court on Monday, Gerol said Moderna needs to test the spoiled doses to make sure they are actually ineffective before Brandenburg can be formally charged, FOX 6 Now reports.  

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Brandenburg's signature bond was set at $10,000 and he was released from jail, police said. He's ordered to surrender his firearms, not work in healthcare and not have contact with Aurora employees, according to media reports.

His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19, CBS 58 says.

The investigation into the incident is ongoing by the Grafton PD, the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration, police said. 

Minnesota Department of Health's Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann told reporters on Monday that Minnesota hasn't had any reports of the COVID-19 vaccine being wasted or spoiled like what happened in Wisconsin, MPR News' Tim Nelson tweeted

The vaccine doesn't alter people's DNA

Misinformation has been spreading about the COVID-19 vaccines that use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, including the Moderna vaccine. Among the false claims are that the mRNA technology alters the DNA of those who get the vaccine. Experts – including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – say this is false.

"mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA," the CDC says.

mRNA technology is a new technology but it isn't unknown as it has been studied for more than a decade, the CDC says. 

This technology helps train the immune system to identify the proteins on the surface of the coronavirus and create an immune response to the virus, The Associated Press says. 

This is unlike most other vaccines, which use weakened or inactive versions of a disease to stimulate the body's immune system response and create antibodies, the CDC notes.

You can read more about how the mRNA technology works from the CDC here. The Mayo Clinic has a webpage dedicated to debunking COVID-19 vaccine myths. You can read that here.

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