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Pharmacist Accused Of Tampering With COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Charged With Misdemeanor

Steven Brandenburg, the pharmacist accused of tampering with hundreds of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, is facing a misdemeanor charge of attempted criminal damage to property.
Ozaukee County Sheriff
Steven Brandenburg, the pharmacist accused of tampering with hundreds of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, is facing a misdemeanor charge of attempted criminal damage to property.

Updated at 8:02 p.m. ET

Steven Brandenburg, the Wisconsin pharmacist accused of intentionally trying to spoil hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses last month, has been charged with attempted criminal damage to property.

According to online court records, the 46-year-old Brandenburg was charged in Ozaukee County Circuit Court on Tuesday. The Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to nine months of imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

Brandenburg was an employee of the Advocate Aurora Health hospital system in Grafton, Wis., when he allegedly removed more than 550 doses of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage in an effort to render them ineffective.

The Moderna vaccine must be stored between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit and can be left at room temperature for up to 12 hours.

Chief Aurora Medical Group officer Jeff Bahr has said that Brandenburg deliberately removed vials from the refrigerator in two separate incidents on Dec. 24 and 25. Upon that discovery, he said, health care workers were forced to throw out some 570 doses, though the supply had already been used on 57 patients.

Brandenburg was arrested on Dec. 31 on recommended charges of recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. Officials said he admitted in a written statement to intentionally removing the vaccine, knowing it would be ineffective if not properly stored.

He later told police that he believed the vaccine to be unsafe, according to Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol. (An extensive Food and Drug Administration analysis of the Moderna vaccine shortly before its authorization in mid-December found "no specific safety concerns.")

As NPR's Vanessa Romo has reported, the pharmacist reportedly told investigators that he knew "that people who received the vaccinations would think they had been vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not."

Member station WUWM reports that during the court session, Gerol said, "The best evidence at this point is that the vaccine remains viable."

"I included a quote from the resident expert within my criminal complaint," Gerol noted. "That said, it is being sent to Moderna for further testing. If something were to come up, then the charges might change."

Earlier this month, Gerol told the court that if the vaccine is not found to be spoiled, "you possibly have a crime known as attempted criminal damage to property in Wisconsin. That would be a misdemeanor, and that would seem to apply at some point in time in the future."

Brandenburg pleaded not guilty at Tuesday's hearing, according to court records. NPR attempted to reach Brandenburg's attorney, Jason Baltz, for comment, but his voicemail was full.

Brandenburg was fired after the incident, and The Associated Press reports that his license was suspended by a state board last week. One of the conditions of his bond forbids him from working as a pharmacist or distributing medication. Further court proceedings are scheduled for March 18.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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