MILWAUKEE (WKOW) — A former Aurora Health Care pharmacist accused of spoiling hundreds of doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products, according to federal prosecutors.
In a press release, U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Krueger of the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced that Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, signed a plea agreement that he was guilty. The charges carry a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.
According to court documents, on two successive overnight shifts in late December, Brandenburg purposefully removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the plea agreement, Brandenburg believed in various “conspiracy theories”; subscribed to notions of “alternative history”; and was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically. Brandenburg had communicated his beliefs about vaccines to his co-workers for at least the past two years.
After leaving the vaccines out for several hours each night, Brandenburg returned the vaccines to the refrigerator to be used in the hospital’s vaccine clinic the following day. Before the full extent of Brandenburg’s conduct was discovered, 57 people received doses of the vaccine from these vials.
“Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy,” said United States Attorney Krueger. “As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone—and especially any medical professional—who tampers with the vaccine.”
Brandenburg’s license was suspended earlier this month. The Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board said that Brandenburg cannot practice pharmacy while suspended. The board’s order says Brandenburg agreed to the suspension “in order to focus” on possible charges against him.