Steven Brandenburg is the Grafton, Wisconsin, pharmacist accused of tampering with COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to jail records.
A prosecutor said in a virtual hearing that his motive was a belief that the vaccine was unsafe. The prosecutor also said Brandenburg had brought a gun to work twice. He believed the vaccine could change people’s DNA, according to a probable cause statement that alleges he also admitted to being a conspiracy theorist.
Brandenburg was booked into the Ozaukee County Jail, which is located in a suburban area near Milwaukee, on preliminary charges of criminal damage to property and second-degree recklessly endangering safety, both of which are felonies. He is described in jail records as a 46-year-old white male. No bail amount is listed. The custody date is given as December 31, 2020.
Police have described a scenario in which the pharmacist is accused of tampering with vaccines to make them useless before they were given to people.
“Grafton detectives indicate that the individual knew the spoiled vaccinations would be useless and that people who received the vaccinations would think they had been vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not,” a police press release said.
Here’s the booking sheet:
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Grafton Police Accuse the Pharmacist of Intentionally Destroying 57 Vials Containing 570 Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine
The Grafton, Wisconsin, police department wrote in a December 31 news release that they had arrested a pharmacist for “intentionally destroying multiple vials of the COVID-19 vaccinations at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton.”
The release says that a former employee of the Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton was arrested on the afternoon of December 31 for “tampering with and causing the destruction of 57 vials containing approximately 570 doses of the novel Coronavirus vaccine.”
Grafton police were called to the Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton on December 30 on a report that a former employee of the pharmacy had intentionally removed the vaccines from the refrigerated storage and left them to sit out overnight, rendering about 570 doses of the vaccine “useless,” according to health professionals. Grafton police immediately began investigating to determine a motive and what, if any, criminal charges could be filed.
No criminal charges had been formally filed as of January 2, 2021. Aurora’s president says it was a “situation involving a bad actor, not a bad process.”
2. Aurora Health Initially Painted the Incident as an Accident; Brandenburg Has a Valid Pharmacist’s License in the State of Wisconsin
According to Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services records, Steven R. Brandenburg is a licensed pharmacist. His location is given as Saukville, Wisconsin, and his credential license is current. It was granted on August 22, 1997, and it was listed as being good through May 31, 2022. He is listed as meeting all requirements and having no orders under his license.
According to police, the investigation revealed that a former pharmacist, a resident of Grafton, “removed the vials from the refrigerated storage knowing they would not be usable. Aurora’s preliminary investigation into the incident, which was initially reported in the news on Saturday, December 26, 2020, determined the incident to be accidental.”
However, after receiving additional information, the public safety sector of Aurora Health “began a deeper dive into the incident and discovered that the vials were intentionally removed by the pharmacist. In a written statement to Aurora Health Public Safety Officials, the former employee admitted to intentionally removing the vaccine knowing that if not properly stored the vaccine would be ineffective,” police said.
3. Patients Actually Received the Vials But Were Not Harmed, the Release Says; The Pharmacist Is in the Middle of a Divorce
The release from police said that Grafton police detectives noted that the 57 doses of the vaccine were distributed to patients, but, according to health officials at Aurora, there are no health concerns related to the spoiled doses. The doses are effectively “useless.”
The value of the spoiled doses was estimated to be between $8,000 and $11,000.
Police arrested Brandenburg on recommended charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety (a Class F felony), adulterating a prescription drug (a Class H felony), and criminal damage to property (A Class I felony). However, only two of the three charges are listed in the jail records; the recommended charge of adulterating a prescription drug is not included in Brandenburg’s booking information.
Aurora Health says it has administered more than 23,000 vaccines to frontline “team members.” The company’s president said in a virtual news conference that there is no evidence that the vaccines already administered rendered the patients unsafe.
WISN-TV reported that its reporters tried to speak with Brandenburg’s “estranged wife,” but she didn’t want to comment.
“(I watched them) take him away in handcuffs. He was in the back of the squad,” said Darlene Scow, who lives on his street, to WISN. “My reaction is I hope he sits for a long time, because there’s people that should have got those shots and what if they get the virus now? It’s horrible that somebody would do that on purpose, deliberately do it.”
Wisconsin court records show that the pharmacist’s wife is the petitioner in a pending divorce filed in June. The records say minor children are involved in the divorce. The parties “request to bypass mediation and have a GAL appointed,” the records say, referring to a Guardian Ad Litem, an attorney representing the children, who was then appointed. Court records indicate that there was an emergency request in November from Brandenburg’s lawyer that Brandenburg’s estranged wife’s attorney objected to. “Court renders order suspending placement due to COVID,” the records say, although they don’t explain further.
In 2004, Brandenburg was the petitioner in a previous divorce.
4. Wisconsin Had Administered More Than 47,000 Vaccines But That’s Only a Portion of Those Allocated to the State
As of December 29, the latest statistics available, the State of Wisconsin had been allocated 265,575 COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government. Of those, 156,875 were shipped and 47,157 administered, according to state statistics. The number of vaccines administered declined during Christmas week.
Wisconsin has seen a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, with more than 480,000 cases confirmed. More than 2.8 million people have been tested. Ninety-three percent of people have recovered, and there are more than 28,000 active cases.
According to state statistics, 1% of people have died, or 4,859. More than 21,000 have ever been hospitalized. That’s 4.4% of the total.
5. The Motive Is Not Clear, But Officials Say Brandenburg Admitted Removing the Vaccine From Refrigeration
Authorities have not revealed a motive for the alleged tampering.
Aurora Health President Dr. Jeffrey Bahr said in a virtual news conference, “On Saturday, Dec. 26, in the early morning, one of our pharmacy technicians discovered what turned out to be 57 vials of Moderna vaccine, enough for about 570 doses, outside the refrigerator in which those vials were stored.”
He said, “We’re not able to make any judgments on motive at this time,” saying authorities were digging into that in their investigation.
The vaccine vials “were returned to the refrigerator,” and the technician reported the incident. The pharmacist alleged it was an “inadvertent error” at first. They later determined the vaccine was “still able to be administered” because it has a 12-hour period of viability.
An internal review continued.
He added, “Over the subsequent days, as we continued our internal review, we became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the individual in question. The individual was suspended and after multiple interviews over the course of the week, admitted yesterday to intentionally removing the vaccine from refrigeration.”
The 57 vaccinations were rendered less effective or ineffective. Those 57 people were notified. “The vaccine program here remains safe and critical to getting us out of the pandemic,” Bahr said, indicating it was now a law enforcement matter.
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