Former pharmacist sentenced to prison for vaccine tampering at Grafton medical center

Steven Brandenburg

Last updated on June 10th, 2021 at 11:18 am

The former Aurora Health Care pharmacist who admitted to intentionally removing COVID-19 vaccines from refrigeration at a Grafton medical center late last year was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Steven Brandenburg, of Grafton, pleaded guilty in February to two counts of attempting to tamper with a consumer product.

A judge in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on Tuesday handed down the sentence, which includes three years of federal probation following Brandonburg’s release from prison, according to WISN-TV Channel 12. BizTimes Milwaukee is a media partner of Channel 12.

In late December 2020, in the early weeks of the vaccine being distributed to frontline health care workers, Brandenburg removed a box containing over 500 Moderna vaccine doses from refrigeration at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton in an attempt to spoil them.

In all, 57 Aurora health care workers received vaccines that could have been inert due to them being left at room temperature. Those doses were later confirmed to be still effective.

Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 4 years and 4 months. He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count.

Brandenburg had worked as the third-shift pharmacist at the Aurora Medical Center since 2012. Court documents describe him as a “conspiracy theorist and vaccine skeptic,” who believed authorities were “out to get him,” that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were fake, and that vaccines were “of the devil.” He had a particular issue with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, believing it was microchipped and would render recipients infertile, according to court documents.

According to court records, Brandenburg was able to convince coworkers on multiple occasions to replace their annual flu vaccine with an inert saline solution. He would use the pharmacy’s technology to generate a label indicating that a syringe contained the flu vaccine and the recipient would present the saline-syringe and label to an Aurora employee administering the vaccine. Brandenburg also personally avoided getting the flu vaccine using a similar plan.

Aurora employees are required to receive the annual flu vaccine.

“Each of these instances reflects a violation of federal law,” court documents say.

Brandenburg also brought firearms to the Grafton medical center, in violation of the health system’s regulations, court documents say. A witness said Brandenburg showed the witness a handgun about a month before the vaccine tampering, explaining it was for use in case the “military came to take him,” court records say.

Several Aurora employees who received the affected vaccines described their pain and frustration at the situation, in court documents. One frontline health worker said there was not a “penalty … suitable for what” Brandenburg did, as he “betrayed” his coworkers and profession, court documents say.

Brandenburg’s pharmacy license has been revoked.

He faces a separate charge in Ozaukee County Circuit Court of attempted criminal damage to property in connection to the vaccine tampering case. He’s scheduled for a hearing on June 16.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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