Student Opinion: Pharmacist Arrested for Spoiling Coronavirus Vaccines


By Jose Orozco

Last Thursday, a pharmacist at a Wisconsin hospital was arrested for tampering with over 500 doses of coronavirus vaccines. Recent claims suggest that the worker tampered with the vaccines twice before they were administered to several patients.

The pharmacist, Steven Brandenburg, is currently held in prison on three criminal counts. The New York Post reports that they are “recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property.” 

However, police have yet to officially declare him as the alleged culprit. 

The culprit had left each Moderna vaccine vial out of the refrigerator on Dec. 24 and 25. The intentions are unclear as of this moment. One can speculate that the pharmacist was doing this as an unethical experiment on the placebo effect.   

The New York Times states that the pharmaceutical company making the vaccines “reassured that the spoiled vaccines would not harm the individuals who received them.” But they would be “rendered less effective or ineffective” since the mRNA molecules quickly fall apart at room temperature. 

There has been no further evidence of additional tampering; nonetheless, his actions intended people to receive an ineffectual vaccine that they believed would protect them from the virus. But if he did want to perform the placebo effect on patients, he would need to check on their status again –– an unlikely outcome during a vaccination.  

My thoughts are that it could be an act of creating chaos as more people who believe they are protected from the virus may act careless and, in turn, become more likely to be infected. This is just speculation, of course. 

According to the New York Post, the vaccines “can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours,” and it was not known for how long the vaccines were out. 

NPR reports that a pharmacy technician had discovered the vials outside of the refrigerator on Christmas morning. Superiors were immediately notified where the spoiled doses had been estimated to value between $8,000 and $11,000. 

The hospital’s superiors are as culpable here because the vaccines were administered without ascertaining the time the vials were out. Money was a considered factor in the decision to issue the vaccines or not.

57 people given the vaccine have been notified, and further use of the spoiled vaccines has been hitherto stopped. 

Undeniably, the pharmacist’s actions are planned, and we can all agree that his actions were unethical. 

 A medical professional must place the safety of others above everything else. Pharmacists have an ethical obligation to provide medications to those who seek aid. And like with any other profession, they are expected to act with integrity while respecting people’s values. 

What occurred at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital is shocking and unfortunate to see. The actions of the individual placed the hospital in jeopardy. If the administered vaccines had negative consequences, the hospital would be responsible for not having tighter surveillance and no assured safety precautions for the administration of vaccines.

Having someone do such unethical actions in a hospital is a disadvantage to everyone. The patients are lied to, and the entire staff receives the repercussions of such actions.

Thankfully, no one was harmed. The actions of the pharmacist were out of place when thousands of people are suffering from the pandemic. Imprisoning those who mistreat coronavirus vaccines is a justified punishment. 

Hopefully, this case discourages such unethical actions as more vaccines are beginning to be distributed nationwide.  

Jose Orozco is a fourth-year student majoring in English at UC Davis. He is from the San Joaquin area.

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