Pharmacist accused of tampering with vaccine over 'mutant DNA' fears in Wisconsin

WATCH: Around 500 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine had to be thrown out in Wisconsin after they were taken from a pharmacy refrigerator and not returned on time.

A Wisconsin pharmacist tampered with a trove of precious COVID-19 vaccines over unfounded fears that it would cause mutations in people’s DNA, officials say.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, is accused of intentionally removing 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a fridge and leaving them out overnight at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., according to a probable cause affidavit. The vials contained enough vaccine for 500 people and must be kept at cold temperatures to avoid spoilage. They can only last for about 12 hours outside a refrigerator.

Brandenburg was fired and arrested last week by Grafton police after his alleged actions came to light. Authorities say charges are pending.

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The pharmacist told investigators that the vaccine “was not safe for people and could harm them and change their DNA,” according to the affidavit. He also said his actions were “intentional.”

Police say Brandenburg is an “admitted conspiracy theorist” who is convinced that the world is “crashing down.”

There is no evidence to support his claim about the vaccine causing mutations in people’s DNA.

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“He’d formed this belief they were unsafe,” Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said during a virtual hearing.

He added that Brandenburg was upset because he was going through a divorce. Another Aurora employee also told police that Brandenburg had twice brought a gun to work.

Brandenburg removed the vials from the fridge overnight on Dec. 24, 2020, put them back the next day, then took them out again that night, according to Advocate Aurora Health Care chief medical group officer Jeff Bahr. He said Brandenburg admitted this to him.

A hospital tech found the vials outside the fridge and put them back early on Dec. 26. They were later used to vaccinate 57 people.

The rest of the doses were discarded after Brandenburg’s alleged tampering came to light.

Police say they will press charges after the vaccines have been tested to determine whether they’ve spoiled. The affected vaccine is worth between US$8,000 and $11,000, police said.

Brandenburg was arrested on Dec. 31, one day after his wife filed an affidavit claiming that he’d stocked up on food and warned her the world was “crashing down.” She also said he’d stored guns in rental units and that she no longer felt safe around him.

A judge ordered Brandenburg to be released on a $10,000 signature bond, surrender his firearms, not work in health care and have no contact with Aurora employees.

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The vaccines created by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech rely on mRNA technology that trains the immune system to identify the spike protein on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus is covered in these spike proteins, and it uses them to infect human cells.

The mRNA vaccines teach a person’s body to make knock-off spike proteins so the immune system can use them for target practice. The body learns how to defend against the harmless spike proteins, which makes it more capable of fighting the real spikes on the coronavirus.

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Experts have repeatedly said that there is no truth to claims that the vaccines alter human DNA.

The DNA-altering conspiracy theory is one of many false claims circulating online about coronavirus vaccines, in addition to the usual host of anti-vaxxer misinformation on the internet.

All vaccines can cause side effects, but the Moderna side effects are typically mild and do not last long, according to Health Canada.

Those side effects include pain or swelling at the injection site, tiredness, head or muscle aches, stiffness, chills, fever, nausea, vomiting and enlarged lymph nodes.

The vaccine must be administered in two doses 28 days apart.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

With files from The Associated Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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