A Wisconsin pharmacist who was convinced the world was “crashing down” told police he tried to ruin hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine because he believed the shots would mutate people’s DNA, according to court documents released on Monday.
Police in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, arrested the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg last week after an investigation into the 57 spoiled vials of the Moderna vaccine, which officials say contained enough doses to inoculate more than 500 people. Charges are pending.
“He’d formed this belief they were unsafe,” Adam Gerol, the Ozaukee county district attorney, said during a virtual hearing. The prosecutor added that Brandenburg was upset because he was in the midst of divorcing his wife, and an Aurora employee said Brandenburg had taken a gun to work twice.
A detective wrote in a probable cause statement that Brandenburg, 46, is an admitted conspiracy theorist and that he told investigators he intentionally tried to ruin the vaccine because it could hurt people by changing their DNA.
Misinformation around the Covid-19 vaccines has surged online with false claims circulating on everything from the vaccines’ ingredients to possible side-effects.
One of the earliest false claims suggested that the vaccines could alter DNA. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as well as the Moderna vaccine rely on messenger RNA or mRNA, which is a fairly new technology used in vaccines that experts have been working on for years.
MRNA vaccines help train the immune system to identify the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus and create an immune response. Experts have said there is no truth to the claims that the vaccines can genetically modify humans.
Jeff Bahr, the Advocate Aurora Health Care chief medical group officer, has said Brandenburg admitted that he deliberately removed the vials from refrigeration at the Grafton medical center overnight on 24 December into 25 December, returned them, then left them out again on the night of 25 December into Saturday.
A pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator on 26 December.
Brandenburg’s attorney, Jason Baltz, did not speak on the merits of the case during the hearing. Gerol held off on filing any charges, saying he still needs to determine whether Brandenburg actually destroyed the doses.
Judge Paul Malloy ordered Brandenburg held on a $10,000 signature bond on the condition that he surrender his firearms, not work in healthcare and have no contact with Aurora employees.
Brandenburg is in the process of divorcing his wife of eight years. The couple has two small children.
According to an affidavit Brandenburg’s wife filed, he visited her on 6 December and dropped off a water purifier and two 30-day supplies of food, telling her the world was “crashing down”.
He had also said the government was planning cyber-attacks and was going to shut down the power grid.
She added that he was storing food in bulk along with guns in rental units and she no longer felt safe around him.