A Wisconsin pharmacist will spend three years in prison for tampering with COVID-19 vaccines.
Steven Brandenburg admitted to intentionally leaving more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine outside of the refrigerator for hours at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin.
The Moderna vaccine must be kept at a specific temperature to remain effective.
Brandenburg pleaded guilty to two felony counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products in February.
“I did not have the right to make this decision for them,” Brandenburg said. “I’m tormented by it daily.”
The Aurora Medical Center destroyed the majority of the doses after 57 people received shots from the tampered bunch.
Brandenburg also substituted saline for the flu vaccine that he was mandated to receive, and he persuaded his co-workers to do the same.
At his sentencing hearing, Brandenburg told the court he was “greatly ashamed” of his actions and took responsibility for them. His defense attorney detailed how Brandenburg’s life had spiraled prior to the incident with a messy divorce, mental and emotional health issues, a sense of disillusionment with work and the stresses of the pandemic.
But his former employer expressed anger at his actions.
Dr. Michelle Blakely, president of Advocate Aurora Health in Grafton, gave a statement in court where she explained how the vaccines were viewed as a “light at the end of the tunnel” for health care workers who had spent months on the front lines of the pandemic. Brandenburg’s actions, Blakely said, have left an impact on hospital staff who are still recovering and rebuilding confidence after an event that “absolutely devastated” the organization.
In addition to the term of imprisonment, the judge ordered Brandenburg to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $83,800 in restitution to the hospital.
Brandenburg also has a state case related to the incident that is pending.
Advocate Aurora Health released the following statement:
“With safety always our top priority, we continue to move forward after the despicable actions of this individual. 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.”