Pharmacist pleads guilty to federal charges for intentionally sabotaging COVID vaccines

The suspect told investigators he was skeptical of the Moderna vaccine.

January 26, 2021, 6:58 PM

A Wisconsin pharmacist pleaded guilty to two federal charges Tuesday and admitted that he tampered with over 500 doses of a coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Justice announced.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, Wisconsin, faces up to 20 years in person on 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, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Brandenburg admitted to removing 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, leaving them out to spoil overnight, according to federal prosecutors. The suspect said he was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically, according to the plea agreement.

"Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today," acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice's Civil Division said in a statement.

Brandenburg's attorney declined to comment about the deal.

Pharmacist Stephen Brandenburg in a police booking photo.
Grafton Police Department

"The FDA has ensured that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine meets the agency's rigorous standards for quality, safety, and efficacy," FDA Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations Catherine A. Hermsen said in a statement.

About 57 doses from the tampered vials were distributed to patients, according to federal prosecutors.

Brandenburg was arrested on New Year's Eve. He was released conditionally to his home four days later after Wisconsin prosecutors said they needed more time for test results from Moderna to determine the exact damage the pharmacist caused when he tampered with the 57 vials, each of which contained about 100 doses.

Last week, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said tests were still ongoing, but "the best evidence at this point is that the vaccine remains viable."

Brandenburg's sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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