The Wisconsin hospital worker accused of spoiling hundreds of doses of COVID-19 vaccine didn’t tamper with the vials just once — he left them unrefrigerated twice, his boss claims.
Steven Brandenburg, 46, is being held in jail on three criminal counts — recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property — although police have not officially identified him as the alleged culprit, the Daily Mail reported.
Ozaukee County Jail records show Brandenburg was booked New Year’s Eve, the same day cops arrested the culprit, and state records show he is a licensed pharmacist.
Both the police and federal authorities — the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration — are investigating the tampering at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee.
The wrongdoer had left 57 vials at room temperature not one night as first suspected, but two — on Dec. 24 and 25, Dr. Jeff Bahr told reporters in a Zoom briefing Thursday.
The culprit put the vials back on ice after the first night, then came back to pull the same trick a second night, Bahr told reporters.
A pharmacy technician found the vials on a counter the morning of Dec. 26 and put them back into the refrigerator. Later that day, 57 people were vaccinated at Aurora Medical Center Grafton because the hospital didn’t know the vials had been left out two nights. The vaccine, according to maker Moderna, can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours.
Those vaccinated have been notified, Bahr said; hospital workers threw out the rest of the vials.
“There is no evidence that the vaccines posed any harm to them other than being potentially less effective or ineffective,” he said.
Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton, Wisconsin.Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP
The employee responsible for leaving the vials out told hospital officials that the move was “inadvertent error,” done in the process of getting another medicine out of the refrigerator, Bahr said.
But hospital officials became “increasingly suspicious” of the employee after an internal review, he said. They interviewed the worker several times before he finally admitted to tampering with the vials.
The employee didn’t explain his actions and police don’t have a motive yet for the crimes.
Bahr assured the public there was no evidence that the vaccine had been tampered with in any other way.
“This was a situation involving a bad actor as opposed to a bad process,” he said.