A pharmacist from Wisconsin will plead guilty after attempting to spoil hundreds of doses of the Moderna vaccine in an effort to make them unusable, the US Justice Department has said.
Steven Brandenburg, 46, who worked at the Aurora Medical Centre in Grafton, Wisconsin, apparently repeatedly removed a box of the jabs from the fridge they were being stored in on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day night.
He then ensured they had been placed back in the fridge ready for the following day.
He is now facing charges of attempting to tamper with consumer products and reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.
According to the plea agreement, Brandenburg believed in various anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories, and was sceptical of the effectiveness of vaccines – specifically the one made by Moderna.
Before Brandenburg’s actions had been discovered, 57 people had received doses from the vials that he had tampered with, and an investigation into whether those people were harmed is under way.
In a statement, US Attorney Matthew Krueger said: “Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy.
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“As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone, and especially any medical professional, who tampers with the vaccine.”
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assistant commissioner for criminal investigations, Catherine Hermsen, added: “The FDA has ensured that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine meets the agency’s rigorous standards for quality, safety, and efficacy.
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“Those who knowingly tamper with this vaccine place American patients’ health at risk. Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that this kind of illicit tampering activity will not be tolerated.”
Moderna’s vaccine, which also been approved for use in the UK, has to be stored and shipped frozen, but does not need the same ultra-cold temperatures that the Pfizer jab does and can be kept in a standard fridge for up to 30 days.
Notably, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were vaccinated using the jab by Moderna, which was part of the previous administration’s Operation Warp Speed – a scheme to fast track vaccine development in the US.