MILWAUKEE: A former pharmacist in Wisconsin who purposefully ruined more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday (Jun 9).
Steven Brandenburg, 46, pleaded guilty in February to two felony counts of attempting to tamper with a consumer product.
He had admitted to intentionally removing the doses manufactured by Moderna from a refrigerator for hours at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, located just north of Milwaukee.
In a statement before receiving his sentence, Brandenburg said he felt “great shame” and accepted responsibility for his actions. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported he apologised to his co-workers, family and the community.
Aurora destroyed most of the tampered doses, but not before 57 people received inoculations from the supply. Those doses are believed to have still been effective, but weeks of uncertainty created a storm of anger, anxiety and anguish among the recipients, according to court documents.
Court documents showed he purposefully removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine vials from a hospital refrigeration unit during two successive overnight shifts in December last year, the Justice Department said in its statement.
Brandenburg was sceptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically, and that he communicated his beliefs to his co-workers for at least the past two years, it said.
Moderna’s vaccine has to be stored and shipped frozen but does not require ultra-cold temperatures and can be stored for 30 days in standard-temperature refrigerators.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of three years and five months. Brandenburg faced a maximum penalty of 10 years of imprisonment at US$250,000 in fines for each felony count.
Brandenburg is an admitted conspiracy theorist who believes he is a prophet and vaccines are a product of the devil. He also professed a belief that the Earth is flat and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were faked.
Brandenburg also secretly substituted saline for flu vaccine that he was mandated to receive and persuaded several co-workers to secretly swap saline for their flu vaccine as well, according to court filings.