Wisconsin pharmacist who destroyed more than 500 vaccine doses believes Earth is flat and that the sky is not real, FBI says
By Andrea Salcedo Feb. 1, 2021 at 7:14 a.m. EST
When a pharmacist discovered that 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine were left to spoil outside a Wisconsin clinic’s refrigerator in December, the worker immediately suspected a colleague who had spread false and outlandish claims, according to court records.
For months, Steven Brandenburg, the overnight pharmacist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., had said he thought the vaccine would harm people, make them infertile and implant them with microchips.
Now, federal authorities say his belief in debunked claims went beyond the vaccine. The pharmacist, who has agreed to plead guilty to charges of attempting to spoil the vaccine, also believes the Earth is flat and that the sky is not real, according to court documents.
His beliefs were revealed in court after a search of Brandenburg’s phone, computer and hard drive by the FBI. The documents include interviews with Brandenburg and Aurora Medical Center pharmacy technician Sarah Sticker, who told authorities she discovered the unrefrigerated doses of the Moderna vaccine at around 3 a.m. on Dec. 26. The unsealed records were first reported by the Daily Beast.
“Brandenburg was very engaged in conspiracy theories,” Sticker told law enforcement, according to court records.
Jason D. Baltz, Brandenburg’s attorney, declined to comment to The Washington Post late Sunday.
The pharmacist removed 57 vials, each containing enough for 10 vaccinations, of the Moderna vaccine from the hospital’s refrigerators the nights of Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, prosecutors say.
On the first evening, he left the vaccine doses unrefrigerated for about three hours before placing them back inside the refrigerator, Brandenburg told authorities. The following day, he said he once again removed the doses, which Sticker found after they had been unrefrigerated for about nine hours.
The incident prompted an investigation by the FBI, the Grafton Police Department and the Food and Drug Administration. The hospital was forced to discard nearly 600 doses following the incident. On Dec. 26., 57 patients were given the Moderna coronavirus vaccine that had been left out of the refrigerator by Brandenburg, according to court records. A hospital administrator told investigators they would not have used the vaccine had they known it was removed from refrigeration on Dec. 24.
Pfizer, partnering with BioNTech, and Moderna have created promising vaccines that scientists hope will lead to more medical breakthroughs using mRNA. (The Washington Post)
The hospital, which launched an internal investigation prompted by Sticker’s findings, said it was initially “led to believe” the incident had been caused by “an inadvertent human error.”
But on Dec. 30, authorities said, Brandenburg admitted to intentionally removing the vials.
“I did so with the purpose of allowing the vaccine to be outside the temperature range so that it would not be effective,” Brandenburg said in an email to Advocate Aurora Health investigators, noting he believed the vaccine “would be harmful to individuals that receive it.”
That same day, Advocate Aurora Health announced Brandenburg no longer worked at the hospital.
In another interview with authorities, Sticker said Brandenburg sent her text messages promoting false beliefs he supported, including that the sky was not really the sky but a “shield put up by the government to prevent individuals from seeing God,” court records show.
Brandenburg, in a separate interview with the Grafton Police Department and the FBI, said “he has had an interest in conspiracy theories” for the past seven years.
Brandenburg is expected to appear in court on Feb. 9.