Pharmacist charged with misdemeanor after leaving COVID vaccine unrefrigerated

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2021 booking photo provided by the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office in Port Washington, Wis., Steven Brandenburg is shown.

GRAFTON — The Ozaukee County district attorney has filed a misdemeanor charge of attempted felony criminal damage to property against a Grafton pharmacist accused of trying to destroy vials of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

DA Adam Gerol had withheld filing charges against Advocate Aurora Hospital pharmacist Steven Brandenburg earlier this month while Gerol awaited testing by Moderna to see if the vaccine was indeed ruined after Brandenburg intentionally left it unrefrigerated overnight on Dec. 24, according to court filings. 

But in the complaint filed Tuesday against Brandenburg, Dr. Randall N. Hyer of Moderna Pharmaceuticals wrote that the vaccine would not have been rendered less effective if it was only left at room temperature for up to 24 hours. 

According to the complaint, Brandenburg, 46, admitted in an email confession that he intentionally removed the box of COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna on two separate occasions, once on Dec. 24 and once on Dec. 25. 

“I did so with the purpose of allowing the vaccine to be outside the temperature range so that it would not be effective,” he said.  

The vaccine was subsequently given to 57 hospital employees. Aurora Health Care Medical Group President Dr. Jeff Bahr said it did not pose a health risk to those who received it, other than making it less effective. 

Though he initially said he accidentally left the vials out, Brandenburg later admitted that he removed the container of vials and placed them on the ground, according to the complaint. 

He stated he had done so “because everything he has researched had led him to believe that the vaccine was unsafe for people and altered their DNA,” the complaint said.

The vaccine had stayed outside the refrigerator for three hours and then he returned it back. He stated that on December 25, 2020, he removed it again and placed it on the ground for approximately nine hours, believing that the total time the vaccine was unrefrigerated was 12 hours.

A pharmacy technician found the container with the vaccine and had put it back in the refrigerator, telling her supervisor. 

“Brandenburg went on to state that this was a spontaneous act, and that he wasn’t thinking straight due to ongoing personal matters and lack of sleep,” according to the complaint.

Brandenburg is due in court for a hearing on a probable cause motion filed against him in early January. 

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