A Wisconsin pharmacist is set to plead guilty to attempting in late 2020 to spoil hundreds of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Steven Brandenburg, 46, was arrested on Dec. 31 after allegedly taking 570 vaccine doses out of cold storage and twice leaving them out overnight. Health care workers had already administered 57 doses of the sabotaged vaccine before they realized what had happened and were forced to set aside remaining doses, according to the New York Times.
Brandenburg allegedly believed the vaccines were unsafe and could alter people’s DNA, which was one of the earliest false rumors about the vaccine, according to the Associated Press.
Brandenburg signed a plea deal on Jan. 20 promising to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer projects with reckless disregard to the risk that places other people in, according to court documents uploaded by the Department of Justice. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
These charges are substantially harsher than Brandenburg’s initial charge of attempting to do criminal damage to property. That charge is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of nine months, according to Wisconsin court records.
But in a Tuesday press release, District Attorney Adam Gerol still expressed disappointment about the severity of Brandenburg’s charges.
“Unfortunately, the facts of this incident simply don’t fit a charge provided for by Wisconsin law that carried a sufficient measure of punishment. However, what transpired here will emphasize the need to expand the scope of our existing statutes should anything like this happen again,” he said.
It’s still unclear whether Brandenburg succeeded in spoiling the vaccines in his care. Moderna vaccine vials are meant to be stored between minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours, according to an FDA fact sheet.
Although Brandenburg accepted the plea deal, he hasn’t yet pled guilty. His next court date is set for March 18, according to online records.
He was released after his arrest on a $10,000 bond and is not currently in jail. However, he is not able to distribute medication or work as a pharmacist. He also can’t possess or use any firearms, according to online records
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