On Tuesday, a federal judge sentenced Steven Brandenburg, the Wisconsin pharmacist whom police say deliberately sabotaged hundreds of covid-19 vaccine doses last December, to three years in federal prison, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Brandenburg had earlier admitted to tampering with the vaccines over fears that they were unsafe, and he apologized for his actions just before the sentencing.
On December 26, 2020, a pharmacy technician at the Advocate Aurora Health Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, noticed that vials of the Moderna vaccine were outside the refrigerator used to store them. Brandenburg at first said that he had accidentally left them out when trying to access other items. Because mRNA vaccines are thought to become useless within 12 hours of being left at room temperature, workers tried to salvage the vials as quickly as possible, ultimately giving 57 people doses before the rest were thrown out, amounting to around 570 doses altogether.
Within days, though, authorities arrested Brandenburg under suspicion that he had intentionally spoiled the doses. Soon after his arrest, Brandenburg reportedly admitted to it, telling police that he had left the doses out overnight on December 24 and 25, likely meaning that the doses given to people were ineffective. When asked why, Brandenburg reportedly said that he believed that the vaccines would harm people by changing their DNA (a completely false belief). An affidavit from his ex-wife alleged that he espoused other conspiracy theories, such as the fear that the U.S. would shut down the power grid and commit cyberattacks against its own citizens. The FBI also claimed that Brandenburg believed the Earth to be flat.
In late January 2021, Brandenburg reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, admitting guilt to two “counts of attempting to tamper with a consumer product.” The prosecutors had recommended Brandenburg serve 51 months of prison (just over four years), and he could have faced up to 20 years prison along with a $250,000 fine. Ultimately, the judge opted for three years prison time, along with three years of probation. Brandenburg will also be required to pay his former employer $84,000 in restitution, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
According to a transcript of the sentencing obtained by WISN, Brandenburg repeatedly expressed regret over what he did, saying that he was “deeply sorry” to the 57 people given faulty doses as well as to his former employer, his family, and his wife’s family.