Wisconsin pharmacist suspected of trying to spoil COVID-19 vaccines thought they would alter DNA, docs say

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A Wisconsin hospital pharmacist who is an admitted conspiracy theorist told police he intentionally tried to spoil hundreds of doses of the coronavirus vaccine because he believed the shots would hurt people by mutating their DNA, court documents say. 

Police in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, arrested Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven Brandenburg last week after 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine were removed from refrigeration, which officials say contained enough doses to inoculate more than 500 people. Charges are still pending as prosecutors are awaiting additional information from investigators, the Grafton Police Department said in a press release issued Tuesday. 

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

Charges are still pending against Steven Brandenburg, shown above. (Ozaukee County Sheriff/AP)


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. 

Gerol added that Brandenburg was upset because he and his wife are divorcing, and an Aurora employee said Brandenburg had taken a gun to work twice. 

Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr has said Brandenburg admitted that he deliberately removed the vials from refrigeration at the Grafton medical center overnight on Dec. 24 into Dec. 25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25 into Saturday. 

A pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator on Dec. 26. Bahr said Brandenburg initially said he had removed the vials to access other items in the refrigerator and had inadvertently failed to put them back. The Moderna vaccine is viable for 12 hours outside refrigeration, so workers used the vaccine to inoculate 57 people before discarding the rest, according to the Associated Press.  

Police had said the discarded doses were worth between $8,000 and $11,000, while Bahr added that the doses people received Dec. 26 are all but useless. 

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But Gerol said during the hearing Monday that the vials were actually retained and Moderna would need to test the doses to make sure they’re ineffective before he can file charges. 

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

Brandenburg’s wife of eight years filed for divorce in June. The couple has two small children. 

According to an affidavit his wife filed on Dec. 30 – the same day Brandenburg was arrested in the vaccine tampering – he had stopped at her house on Dec. 6 and dropped off a water purifier and two 30-day supplies of food, telling her that the world was "crashing down" and she was in denial. He said the government was planning cyberattacks and was going to shut down the power grid. 

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She added that he was storing food in bulk along with guns in rental units and she no longer felt safe around him. A court commissioner on Monday found that Brandenburg’s children were in imminent danger and temporarily prohibited them from staying with him. 


Misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines has surged online with false claims circulating on everything from the vaccines’ ingredients to their possible side effects. 

One of the earliest false claims suggested that the vaccines could alter DNA. The Pfizer and 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. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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