Here's Why A Pharmacist Destroyed 57 Vials Of The COVID-19 Vaccine

Nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and still thousands of people worldwide are dying each day. In the United States alone, in the past seven days, we have seen over 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 and over 18,000 deaths due to the disease (via CDC). Since the beginning of the pandemic, scientists around the world have prioritized learning as much as possible about SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection, and with help from programs like Operation Warp Speed, have focused efforts on producing effective vaccines for mass production and protection.

On December 18th, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (via FDA). Like its predecessor, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Moderna's COVID vaccine consists of two doses spaced 28 days apart (via CDC). 

Both vaccines need to be stored and handled properly and under strict conditions. The Moderna vaccine arrives frozen to its destination and then needs to be placed either in a freezer or refrigerator according to strict guidelines (via CDC). It is noted that once vaccines have "thawed," they can not be refrozen. Straying from the storage and handling guidelines can lead to ineffective vaccinations, putting people's lives at risk.

The danger of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories

While most people are reveling in the hope vaccines are bringing to the world, some have more sinister, uninformed views in mind. Last week, 46-year-old, Steven Brandenburg, a Wisconsin pharmacist, was arrested for allegedly removing 57 vials of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine from storage on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day (via CNN). The vials were found on December 26th by a pharmacy tech who then put them back into the refrigerator. According to Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, 57 of the 570 doses of the mishandled vaccines were then unknowingly administered. The remaining vials were sent back to Moderna for further testing to evaluate potential efficacy. 

So why did Brandenburg do it?

Shortly after the incident, Brandenburg provided officials with a written statement claiming responsibility for knowingly removing the vials and rendering them virtually ineffective. He told investigators he believed the vaccine would "harm people and change their DNA" (via CBS). While very troubling, this is not an idea unique to Brandenburg, an alleged conspiracy theorist himself; in fact, there are several such theories roaming the world wide web misinforming people (via BBC).

mRNA vaccines do not alter your DNA

But the truth and science remains — the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines do not affect or interact with a person's DNA (via CDC). While the COVID-19 vaccines are the first approved mRNA vaccines for delivery, their technology has been studied for more than a decade in relation to other viruses. These vaccines work by introducing mRNA (genetic material) into the body, to instruct it on how to produce a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 "spike protein" that we have all come to know. After part of the spike protein is made, the body destroys the mRNA, which never enters the nucleus of the cell, thus never affecting or interacting with your own DNA. Once the spike protein is displayed on a cell's surface, the immune system will begin responding and producing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Brandenburg's misinformed ideas cost the government thousands of dollars and potentially endangered the lives of many. He is being charged with damage to property and recklessly endangering safety. His next scheduled court date will occur on January 19th.