Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office/AP
A Wisconsin man agreed to plead guilty Tuesday to tampering with doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in late December, federal prosecutors say. He faces two charges 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. Each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Forty-six-year-old pharmacist Steven Brandenburg formerly worked a night shift at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis. And on the evenings of Dec. 24 and 25, he removed a specific box of the Moderna vaccine from the pharmacy refrigerator for multiple hours, Justice Department officials said. Brandenburg, who has spent the last 23 years as a licensed pharmacist, knew this would leave the vaccines inert or less effective.
Authorities with the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Grafton Police Department began investigating reports of Brandenburg’s alleged acts of sabotage in late December. Agents conducted interviews with hospital staff, collected surveillance footage and reviewed electronic records.
Over the course of their investigation, authorities discovered that Brandenburg believed in an array of conspiracy theories and notions of “alternative history.” He shared these beliefs with coworkers at the medical center. He was also wary of vaccines, especially the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Fifty-seven individuals at the medical center received doses of the vaccine that Brandenburg allegedly tampered with. It’s still unclear whether those doses were rendered ineffective, according to the Justice Department.
“Pharmacists rank among some of the most trusted professionals,” said the FBI’s Milwaukee Special Agent in Charge Robert Hughes. “This individual used his special access to tamper with vials of the much needed COVID-19 vaccine. The FBI takes allegations of consumer product tampering very seriously and will use all available resources to bring those to justice who intentionally put the public’s health at risk.”
Brandenburg also faces a state misdemeanor charge and has been free while awaiting further proceedings in that case.