Ex-pharmacist sentenced to prison for tampering with COVID-19 vaccines

(GRAFTON, Wis.) — The former Wisconsin pharmacist who pleaded guilty to deliberately tampering over 500 COVID-19 vaccine doses was sentenced Tuesday to three years in federal prison.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty in February to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.

Brandenburg admitted to removing 57 vials — approximately 500 doses — of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 last year, letting them spoil.

About 57 doses from the tampered vials were distributed to patients before doctors learned about the tampering, according to federal prosecutors.

During his appearance in a federal court in Milwaukee, Brandenburg expressed regret.

“I am desperately sorry and ashamed for what I did to these people,” he said, according to ABC affiliate WISN in Milwaukee.

Federal prosecutors had recommended a longer sentence of 51 months.

Brandenburg’s lawyer Jason Baltz argued his client had already paid a high price for what he had done, citing loss of reputation, family bonds and livelihood — and pointing to his good behavior while awaiting his sentence. His client, Baltz said, was ashamed, humbled and remorseful.

A sentencing memo revealed that Brandenburg allegedly tampered with other treatments in the past due to his unfounded beliefs on vaccines. Prior to the pandemic, Brandenburg “on multiple occasions” covertly substituted saline solution for flu vaccine that he was required to receive as part of his employment, and “was able to convince” co-workers to secretly switch their shot out for saline as well, the memo alleged.

Brandenburg was under house arrest at his parents’ home since the plea deal and turned himself in to federal custody in the afternoon, according to the courts.

He will be on federal probation for three years after his release and owes his former employers approximately $83,800 in restitution as part of his sentencing.

The suspect said he was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically, citing baseless conspiracies, according to the plea agreement he made with federal prosecutors in January.

Brandenburg was arrested on New Year’s Eve but released unconditionally after investigators said they needed more time to determine how many vaccines were tampered with.

In a statement to ABC, the hospital system where Brandenburg was formerly employed said it will “continue to move forward” after Brandenburg’s “despicable actions,” and that safety remains its “top priority. “

“Since this incident, our successful vaccination program has continued with more than 700,000 doses administered to date, and the dropping COVID-19 numbers show how important the vaccines have been in moving us toward the end of the pandemic. The vaccines are safe and effective, and we remain fully committed to doing our part to distribute them in our communities.”

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