Updated at 2:05 am ET
A Milwaukee pharmacist was arrested Thursday and charged with “tampering and causing destruction” of more than 550 doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine last week in Grafton, Wisconsin, police confirmed.
In a statement, officials from the Grafton Police Department said the pharmacist – now fired from the Advocate Aurora Health hospital system – had been arrested on recommended charges of recklessly endangering first-degree security, tampering with prescription drug and criminal property damage.
Officials did not disclose the identity of the individual “pending official notification of the charges.” However, a licensed pharmacist named Steven Brandenburg was booked Thursday for the same fee, according to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department.
Officials said in a written statement to public safety officials at Aurora Health, the pharmacist in charge admitted “to intentionally withdrawing the vaccine knowing that if it was not stored properly, the vaccine would be ineffective.”
Moderna vials should be stored between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. They can remain effective for up to 12 hours if left at room temperature. Beyond that, the drug is rendered useless.
During a teleconference Thursday, Aurora Medical Group chief Jeff Bahr told reporters the former employee deliberately removed the vials from the refrigeration twice – on December 24 overnight and then put them back in a proper storage, then again on December 25 in Saturday morning.
A pharmacy technician discovered them outside the refrigerator on Christmas morning and immediately notified superiors, Bahr said.
As a result, health workers were forced to throw away around 570 doses of the vaccine. However, some people received the medicine that was left out.
Grafton Police detectives reported that 57 patients received the injections. Bahr said these vaccines were potentially less effective or totally ineffective. The patients, who have been notified, are at no risk of adverse health effects because doses were missed, he noted.
The pharmacist told investigators he knew “people who received the vaccinations would think they had been vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not,” officials said.
The value of damaged doses is estimated to be between $ 8,000 and $ 11,000.
The suspect is currently being held in the Ozaukee County Jail.
Jaclyn Diaz, NPR last-minute reporter, contributed to this report.
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