Pharmacist Arrested For Trying To Destroy COVID-19 Vaccine Released Monday

Ozaukee County District Attorney Says It's Unclear Whether Any Vaccine Was Actually Damaged

Steven Brandenburg booking photo
A booking photo of Steven Brandenburg provided by the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 in Port Washington, Wis. Ozaukee County Sheriff via AP Photo

The Wisconsin pharmacist arrested for trying to destroy more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be released from jail on a $10,000 signature bond. The move comes after the Ozaukee County district attorney told a circuit court judge it’s unclear whether any vaccine was actually destroyed.

Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg of Grafton was arrested on Dec. 31 after the hospital system told Grafton Police around 570 doses of Moderna coronavirus vaccine had been purposely left at room temperature overnight, rendering them useless.

According to court documents obtained by the Associated Press, Brandenburg told a detective he tried to destroy the vaccine because he believed it would mutate people’s DNA. The officer said Brandenburg was an admitted conspiracy theorist.

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But during an initial appearance in Ozaukee County Circuit Court Monday, District Attorney Adam Gerol told Judge Paul Malloy that some of the initial reports about the vaccine being destroyed had been walked back. Gerol said, in essence, it’s unclear whether the drugs have been damaged or destroyed and that further testing by Moderna may be necessary to know for sure.

“And apparently the only way they can discover that or tell us that is if they test them. It’s unknown how much time that will take,” Gerol said.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine must be frozen at temperatures between minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The CDC says unused vials can be stored at between 46 degrees Fahrenheit and 77 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 12 hours.

Gerol said even though Brandenburg intended to destroy the vaccine by leaving it out, specific criminal charges will depend on whether medicine is still viable.

“You possibly have a crime known as attempted criminal damage to property in Wisconsin,” said Gerol. “That would be a misdemeanor and that would seem to apply at some point in time in the future.”

As a result, Gerol suggested Brandenburg be released on a $10,000 signature bond until further testing of the affected vials can be conducted.

But Gerol also said he received reports from some of Brandenburg’s coworkers at Aurora Health that he had brought a firearm to work in the past, though it is unknown exactly when that happened.

Because of that, Gerol also asked the judge to require Brandenburg to surrender his firearms as a condition of bail along with banning him from working in healthcare or giving any vaccinations.

Malloy agreed and ordered Brandenburg to surrender his weapons by 5 p.m. Monday afternoon and not leave Wisconsin until the case is concluded.

Brandenburg had already surrendered some weapons to police at the request of his ex-wife, said Gerol. Court records show Brandenburg and his wife filed for divorce in June 2020.