When a pharmacist discovered 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine left to spoil outside a Wisconsin clinic’s refrigerator in December, the worker immediately suspected a colleague who had spread false and outlandish claims, according to court records.

For months, Steven Brandenburg, the overnight pharmacist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., had said he thought the vaccine would harm people, make them infertile, and implant them with microchips.

Now, federal authorities say belief in debunked claims went beyond the vaccine. The pharmacist, who has agreed to plead guilty to charges of attempting trying to spoil the vaccine, also believes the Earth is flat and that the sky is not real, according to court documents.

His beliefs were revealed in a search of Brandenburg’s phone, computer and hard drive recently unsealed in court by the FBI. The documents include interviews with Brandenburg and Aurora Medical Center pharmacy technicianSarah Sticker, who told authorities that she discovered the unrefrigerated doses of the Moderna vaccine at around 3 a.m. on Dec. 26. The unsealed records were first reported by the Daily Beast.

“Brandenburg was very engaged in conspiracy theories,” Sticker told law enforcement, according to court records.

Jason D. Baltz, Brandenburg’s attorney, declined to comment to The Washington Post late Sunday.

The pharmacist removed the 57 vials, each containing enough for 10 vaccinations, of the Moderna vaccine from the hospital’s refrigerators the nights of Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, prosecutors say.

On the first evening, he left the vaccines unrefrigerated for about threehours before placing them back inside the refrigerator, Brandenburg told authorities. The following day, he said he once again removed the vaccines, which Sticker found after they had been unrefrigerated for about nine hours.

The incident prompted an investigation by the FBI, the Grafton Police Department and the Food and Drug Administration. The hospital was forced to discard nearly 600 doses following the incident. On Dec. 26., fifty-seven patients were given the Moderna coronavirus vaccine that had been left out of the refrigerator by Brandenburg, according to court records. A hospital administrator told investigators they would not have used the vaccine had they known it was also removed from refrigeration on Dec. 24.

The hospital, which launched an internal investigation prompted by Sticker’s findings, said it was initially “led to believe” that the incident had been caused by “an inadvertent human error.”

But on Dec. 30, authorities said, Brandenburg admitted to intentionally removing the vials.

“I did so with the purpose of allowing the vaccine to be outside the temperature range so that it would not be effective,” Brandenburg said in anemail to Advocate Aurora Health investigators, noting that he believed the vaccines “would be harmful to individuals that receive it.”

That same day, Advocate Aurora Health announced Brandenburg no longer worked at the hospital.

In another interview with authorities, Sticker said Brandenburg sent her text messages promoting false beliefs he supported, including that the sky was not really the sky but a “shield put up by the government to prevent individuals from seeing God,” court records show.

Brandenburg, in a separate interview with the Grafton Police Department and the FBI, said “he has had an interest in conspiracy theories” for the past seven years.

Brandenburg is expected to appear in court on Feb. 9.


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