The Wisconsin hospital pharmacist who was fired and arrested for intentionally trying to destroy hundreds of Covid-19 vaccine doses has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges, authorities said on Tuesday.
Steven Brandenburg was fired from the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, in December after the hospital said he admitted he “intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.” Brandenburg, a pharmacist, agreed to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard, the Department of Justice said.
The charges carry with them a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count.
“According to the plea agreement, Brandenburg stated that he was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically,” the department said Tuesday. “Brandenburg had communicated his beliefs about vaccines to his co-workers for at least the past two years.”
Prosecutors said that Brandenburg intentionally removed doses of the Moderna vaccine from its refrigeration during two successive overnight shifts last month, possibly rendering them ineffective because the vaccine vials must be stored at specific temperatures.
Brandenburg then returned the vaccines to the refrigerator after knowing that they had been left out, leading to 57 people being injected with the potentially spoiled inoculations, the Department of Justice said.
Grafton police said Brandenburg is an “admitted conspiracy theorist” and he “told investigators that he believed that Covid-19 vaccine was not safe for people and could harm them and change their DNA.”
The Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board suspended Brandenburg’s license earlier this month which would not allow him to practice at a pharmacy in the state.
Anyone who tampers with doses of Covid-19 doses will face justice, U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Krueger said Tuesday.
“Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy,” Krueger said.
Moderna and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines, currently approved for emergency use in the U.S., are not yet widely available. States have struggled to meet demand as supply chains for the inoculations, competing for a scarce resource against each other and the rest of the world.
There have been more than 23.5 million doses administered across the country as of Tuesday, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Only 3.4 million people have been fully vaccinated with both doses since the first shipments were released on Dec. 14.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he planned to purchase an additional 200 million doses in an effort to bolster distribution.