ST. ALBANS — Local hospital officials say vaccine doses are secure and precautions are being taken, as news of alleged threats toward vaccine distribution efforts in Vermont and nationally make headlines.
On Monday, police charged a Chittenden County man, 27-year-old Aaron Loucks, on one count of possession of a firearm by a knowing use of controlled substances after an investigation found Loucks had allegedly purchased numerous weapons from out of state. According to an affidavit filed by an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the investigation also revealed Loucks had written “concerning messages regarding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The charges come after news that a Wisconsin pharmacist was arrested last week for allegedly trying to ruin hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses. A judge ordered the pharmacist, Steven Brandenburg, to be released on a $10,000 signature bond, surrender his firearms, not work in health care and have no contact with Aurora employees, according to an Associated Press report.
During an interview with the Messenger on Tuesday, Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) Safety Officer Chris Reinfurt indicated the public can rest assured that precautions have been taken to safeguard doses at the hospital since their arrival.
According to Reinfurt, the number of doses and timing of their arrival at the hospital fluctuates, and is only known by a handful of trusted staff at the facility. He said the doses are kept in a safe location and the doses arrive with security officials from the state.
Due to security concerns, Reinfurt could not elaborate on specific measures being taken.
“Our greatest security is the inconsistency of when vaccines are delivered to us,” Reinfurt said. “Only very few people know when it’s ordered and when it’s coming and when it arrives.”
The hospital is under video surveillance, and is also protected with an alarm system and security officers.
“I’m very comfortable that we have a lot of eyes and ears that are securing the facility,” Reinfurt said.
“[Loucks] represents a very small portion of our population. Having said that, educate yourself to the positive aspects of vaccinations,” Reinfurt said on Tuesday. “It’s a well-known science we can trust.”
NMC has administered 800 COVID-19 doses thus far, according to Kate Laddison, community relations and fundraising manager for the hospital. She said the first day of vaccinations at the hospital led to a “celebratory atmosphere,” with some stating that the vaccine “feels like getting a shot of hope.”
“It felt like one of the best hopeful moments we’ve had in a long time,” Laddison said.
The Loucks case
According to the affidavit, the ATF agent was contacted by the Burlington Police Department after a source familiar with Loucks turned over body armor, a helmet, ammunition and several notes belonging to Loucks, out of concern for public safety.
“I obtained six photographs of the notes, which appeared to show a message directed at COVID-19 vaccine distribution,” Special Agent Eric Brimo, of the ATF, wrote. “Another note lists tactics and strategies, and others list hospital locations, pharmacies, prisons, long-term care, primary care, EMTs, nurses, doctors, colleges and BCBS of Vermont.”
The affidavit states sources informed police Loucks had been purchasing firearms, and advised police that Loucks allegedly believed the COVID-19 screening precautions are part of a government conspiracy to gain control over the population. Sources also told police Loucks has a history of substance abuse and mental health issues, according to the affidavit.
Loucks is currently being held at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, according to Vermont’s offender locator. He was due at the U.S. District Court in Burlington for arraignment on Tuesday, but that hearing was rescheduled to Thursday, according to a court clerk.