Conspiracy Theorist Gets 3 Years In Prison For Destroying 570 COVID Vaccine Doses

by : Emily Brown on : 09 Jun 2021 07:44
Conspiracy Theorist Gets 3 Years Prison For Destroying 570 COVID Vaccine DosesGrafton Police Department/PA Images

A pharmacist has been sentenced to three years in prison after he intentionally tried to spoil more than 500 doses of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Steven R. Brandenburg, from Wisconsin, pleaded guilty in January 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.


He was sentenced on Tuesday, June 8, with federal prosecutors announcing his three years in prison plus three years of supervised release. Brandenburg has also been ordered to pay nearly $84,000 in restitution to the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, where he worked.

Moderna Vaccine (PA Images)PA Images

Police in Grafton described the pharmacist as an ‘admitted conspiracy theorist’ who believed the vaccine intended to help end the coronavirus pandemic could actually harm people and ‘change their DNA’, The New York Times reports.

A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Grafton Police Department found Brandenburg tampered with the vaccines during his overnight shifts on December 24 and December 25.


According to Brandenburg’s plea agreement, he removed a box of vials containing 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which needs to be kept cool, from a refrigerator for ‘periods of multiple hours, intending to render that same vaccine inert or ineffective’.

The vials were found outside the fridge on December 26, but 57 people still received doses from the batch that day. Brandenburg was arrested five days after the vials were discovered, and prosecutors noted that while the vaccines that had been tampered with appeared to remain effective, ‘the harms [Brandenburg] caused were multifaceted and severe’.

Steven Brandenburg (Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office)Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office

The prosecutors sought a longer sentence for Brandenburg from the judge, arguing that his behaviour still had tangible consequences for the people who received the doses in question, as one victim expressed ‘lasting worry and stress’ about their vaccine, while another experienced ‘fear’, ‘anxiety’, ‘dread’, and ‘significant anguish’ for ‘many weeks’.


Richard G. Frohling, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District, drew attention to Brandenburg’s position as a conspiracy theorist in a sentencing memo, discussing his belief the Moderna vaccine was ‘microchipped’ and would make recipients infertile.

The pharmacist, who had a decade of work experience, reportedly believed in a number of other conspiracy theories. According to the prosecutor’s memo: ‘He believed that the authorities were ‘out to get him’; that Judgment Day was imminent; that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were ‘fake’; that the Earth was flat; that he was a ‘prophet’; and that vaccines were ‘of the Devil’.’

Person looking at vaccine (PA Images)PA Images

Frohling also noted: ‘Ensuring access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines is critical to the well-being of everyone in our communities.’


In spite of the prosecution’s arguments, Judge Brett H. Ludwig said he was giving Brandenburg a lighter sentence because he had no previous criminal record and had accepted responsibility for his actions, as well as because no physical harm had come from the tampering.

The pharmacist reportedly said he felt ‘great shame’ for attempting to tamper with the vaccine and issued an apology to to his co-workers, his family, and the local community.

Featured Image Credit: Grafton Police Department/PA Images

If you’ve been affected by coronavirus and want up to date advice, visit the Gov.uk help page here. If you need medical help call NHS 111 or visit online.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: News, Anti-Vaxxer, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Now, vaccine, Wisconsin


The New York Times
  1. The New York Times

    Wisconsin Pharmacist Who Tampered With Vaccine Gets 3-Year Sentence