The Grafton pharmacist accused of trying to ruin coronavirus vaccines has been charged – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Bruce Vielmetti   | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

PORT WASHINGTON — The pharmacist who admitted leaving some 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of refrigeration last month has been charged with a misdemeanor.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton was originally held on expected felony charges of destroying the vaccines. But at his initial court hearing earlier this month, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said the actual status of the vaccines was unclear.

Brandenburg was released pending some further review by scientists from Moderna Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the vaccine that had been stored at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton where Brandenburg worked.

On Tuesday, Gerol filed a complaint charging Brandenburg with attempted criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Brandenburg later appeared in court with his attorney, Jason Baltz, and entered a not guilty plea. He remains free on a signature bond. The next hearing is set for March 18.

Gerol told Circuit Judge Paul Malloy that the charges could still be upgraded if further testing by Moderna reveals permanent damage to the vaccine doses. He also said federal authorities continue to investigate the matter.

According to the complaint, Brandenburg, an admitted conspiracy theorist who is going through a divorce, told detectives that he intentionally left out some 57 vials of vaccine on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, expecting they would become ineffective, because he did not believe the vaccine was safe.

Track COVID-19 in Wisconsin: See the latest data on cases and the vaccine rollout

Related: What we know about Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccine plan, what groups will get it and when

The first time, the vials were left out for three hours before being returned to a refrigerator. The second time, they were out about nine hours before a pharmacy technician found them, returned them to the proper storage and alerted supervisors.

Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr announced the company’s internal investigation earlier this month and that Brandenburg had been fired. Last week, the state suspended his pharmacy license.

Aurora made a public statement regarding the affected vaccines, first indicating that they had been effectively ruined, and the ruined doses had been destroyed or discarded. That would have been a loss in value of more than $8,000 and exposed Brandenburg to a felony charge.

Later, Aurora officials clarified that the doses had in fact been preserved. The new complaint states that an official with Moderna Pharmaceuticals confirmed that the vials could be left at room temperature up to 24 hours without destroying their efficacy.

The affected vials are now being retested to confirm whether they are still viable for immunizations. 

The Moderna vaccines are so-called messenger RNA vaccines. Instead of introducing a weakened version of the virus so the body will try to build defenses, the mRNA delivers instructions for our 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 COVID-19 vaccines are the first to use the mRNA process, though scientists have been studying it for decades, and experts have endorsed the new vaccines as safe. They have no impact on someone’s DNA.

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or bvielmetti@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.

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The Grafton pharmacist accused of trying to ruin coronavirus vaccines has been charged – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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