Wisconsin pharmacist who tampered with COVID-19 vaccines gets 3 years

MILWAUKEE — A former Wisconsin pharmacist who pleaded guilty to sabotaging more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in December was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday.

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Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, admitted to intentionally removing the Moderna doses from a refrigerator for several hours in late December at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of attempting to tamper with a consumer product, the newspaper reported.

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The federal charges against Brandenburg asserted he sabotaged the vaccine doses “with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury,” WISN reported.

“This was a serious offense,” District Judge Brett Ludwig said Tuesday. “This happened in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Aurora destroyed most of the tampered doses, but not before 57 people -- mostly Brandenburg’s co-workers -- received the tampered vaccines, the Journal-Sentinel reported.

Brandenburg, who worked as a pharmacist at Aurora Medical Center, said he removed the doses of the Moderna vaccine because he believed they were harmful, WITI reported.

“Those doses that were compromised were our very first doses,” Dr. Michelle Blakely, president of Aurora Grafton Medical Center, said as she addressed the court. “The team is still very troubled. The pharmacy team is struggling building morale and confidence around this.”

In a statement before receiving his sentencing, Brandenburg said he felt “great shame” and accepted responsibility for his actions, the Journal-Sentinel reported. He apologized to his co-workers, family and the community of Grafton.

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“I did not have the right to make this decision for them,” Brandenburg told the court. “I’m tormented by it daily.”

Defense attorney Jason Baltz said Brandenburg’s actions came as a result of the trauma he experienced as a health care worker during the pandemic and his wife filing for divorce, which sent him “reeling,” the Journal-Sentinel reported.

Brandenburg’s sentences will be served concurrently and will include three years of supervised release and a requirement to participate in a mental health treatment program, WITI reported. He has also agreed to pay $84,000 in restitution to Advocate Aurora Health, the Journal-Sentinel reported.

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