Former Wisconsin pharmacist who tampered with COVID vaccines sentenced to 3 years in federal prison

NOW: Former Wisconsin pharmacist who tampered with COVID vaccines sentenced to 3 years in federal prison

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Steven Brandenburg, the ex-pharmacist convicted of intentionally tampering with more than 500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Grafton hospital, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Tuesday, June 8.

Brandenburg was a third shift pharmacist at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton when he admitted to intentionally removing dozens of vials of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from refrigeration.

Fifty-seven doses were administered to coworkers of Brandenburg before hospital officials found out and destroyed the rest of the doses. The 57 doses were eventually determined to still be effective and did not produce health affects for the patients who received them.

At his sentencing hearing, Brandenburg told the court he was "greatly ashamed" of his actions and took responsibility for them. His defense attorney detailed how Brandenburg's life had spiraled prior to the incident with a messy divorce, mental and emotional health issues, a sense of disillusionment with work and the stresses of the pandemic.

But his former employer expressed anger at his actions.

Dr. Michelle Blakely, president of Advocate Aurora Health in Grafton, gave a statement in court where she explained how the vaccines were viewed as a "light at the end of the tunnel" for health care workers who had spent months on the front lines of the pandemic. Brandenburg's actions, Blakely said, have left an impact on hospital staff who are still recovering and rebuilding confidence after an event that "absolutely devastated" the organization.

Government prosecutors asked for 51 months, but the judge in this case said he considered Brandenburg's guilty plea, lack of criminal record and other factors. That ultimately led to the three-year sentence that the judge said was just but not excessive.

"In this case, it sounds like the judge took into consideration a lot of different factors," Julius Kim, a lawyer and legal expert, told CBS 58. "I think that the judge saw how things shook out, he saw how no one was actually harmed by these vaccines, […] but you have to balance that with the fact that 500 doses that potentially didn't go to people."

In addition to the term of imprisonment, the judge ordered Brandenburg to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $83,800 in restitution to the hospital.

Brandenburg also has a state case related to the incident that is pending.

Advocate Aurora Health sent CBS 58 the following statement:

"With safety always our top priority, we continue to move forward after the despicable actions of this individual. Since this incident, our successful vaccination program has continued with more than 700,000 doses administered to date, and the dropping COVID-19 numbers show how important the vaccines have been in moving us toward the end of the pandemic. The vaccines are safe and effective, and we remain fully committed to doing our part to distribute them in our communities."
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