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Pharmacist Arrested for Trying to Ruin Hundreds of COVID-19 Shots


Steven Brandenburg is accused of intentionally spoiling hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine. (Ozaukee County Sheriff via AP)
Pharmacist Arrested for Trying to Ruin Hundreds of COVID-19 Shots
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A pharmacist in the American state of Wisconsin told police that he tried to ruin hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine. In court documents released Monday, the man said he believed the vaccine would change people’s DNA.

Police in the city of Grafton arrested pharmacist Steven Brandenburg on December 31. The arrest followed an investigation into the 57 damaged vials of the Moderna vaccine at Advocate Aurora Health. Officials said the vials contained enough doses to vaccinate more than 500 people.

Government lawyer Adam Gerol told The Associated Press, “He’d formed this belief they were unsafe.” Gerol added that Brandenburg was upset because he and his wife are separating.

Another employee within the Advocate Aurora Health hospital system said Brandenburg had brought a gun to work two times in the past.

Brandenburg has not yet been criminally charged.

False information about COVID-19 vaccines

A police investigator wrote in court documents that Brandenburg admitted to being a conspiracy theorist – someone who believes in secret plans that usually powerful people or groups make. He told investigators he knowingly tried to ruin the doses because he thought the vaccine could harm people by changing their DNA.

False information about COVID-19 vaccines has been shared on social media, including claims that “mRNA” vaccines will change your DNA. Some theories claim the shots will turn people into genetically modified human beings.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA. The use of mRNA in vaccine development is fairly new. But scientists have worked on the technology for almost 30 years.

The mRNA vaccines give cells instructions for how to make what is called the “spike protein.” This is a substance found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. The human body can then recognize that the protein does not belong there and start producing antibodies to fight against the virus.

Experts have said there is no truth to claims that the vaccines can genetically modify humans. Health officials in Britain, the United States and Europe have approved the vaccines for emergency use.

Pat Moore, with the Chester County Health Department, prepares Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to administer to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Pat Moore, with the Chester County Health Department, prepares Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to administer to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.


What happened?

Jeff Bahr is head of Advocate Aurora Health Care in Grafton. He said Brandenburg admitted that he removed vials containing the vaccine from refrigeration and left them out two times.

Another worker discovered the vaccines outside the refrigerator on December 26. Brandenburg told that worker he had forgotten to put them back. The Moderna vaccine can remain effective for 12 hours outside refrigeration. Workers used the doses to vaccinate 57 people before throwing away the rest. Police said the unused doses were worth between $8,000 and $11,000.

Bahr believes the shots people received on December 26 were not effective. But government lawyer Adam Gerol said Moderna would need to test the shots to make sure they were ineffective before he can bring charges against Brandenburg.

Brandenburg’s wife of eight years filed for divorce in June. Court documents said the day before Brandenburg was arrested for ruining the vaccine, he told his wife that the world was “crashing down.” He told her the government was planning cyberattacks and was going to shut down the power network.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pharmacist - n. a person whose job is to prepare and administer drugs and medicines

dose - n. the amount of medicine or drug

vial - n. very small glass or plastic container used to hold medicines

conspiracy - n. a secret plan to do something that is harmful and illegal

modified - adj. changed parts of something

refrigeration - n. the state of keeping something cold

divorce - n. the ending of a marriage by a legal process

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