Steven Brandenburg, 46, faces up to 20 years in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. The plea agreement was released Tuesday.
“Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today,” acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a news release.
Brandenburg was working two night shifts as a hospital pharmacist in Grafton, north of Milwaukee, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when he removed a box of Moderna vaccines from a freezer for several hours in order to try to spoil them.
On Dec. 26, some 57 people received doses of those specific vaccines.
Prosecutors said they are still trying to determine if those people received ineffective or harmful vaccines as a result of Brandenburg's actions.
Brandenburg admitted in his plea agreement to being a believer of conspiracies and that he is "skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine specifically."
The Grafton Police Department previously said the pharmacist falsely believed the vaccine could alter people's DNA — which it cannot.
COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna's, have been rigorously tested for safety and authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. More than 23.5 million vaccine doses have been given in the US as of Tuesday.
“Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy,” said US Attorney Matthew D. Krueger. “As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone —and especially any medical professional — who tampers with the vaccine.”
Correction: Steven Brandenburg faces up to 20 years in prison. A previous version of this story misstated the possible sentence.