The former Wisconsin pharmacist who made national headlines earlier this year after intentionally sabotaging hundreds of vaccine doses will spend three years behind bars, a court decided this week.
“The purposeful attempt to spoil vaccine doses during a national public health emergency is a serious crime,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said following the sentencing. “The Department of Justice will continue working with its law enforcement partners to safeguard these life-saving vaccines.”
Brandenburg, an admitted conspiracy theorist, sabotaged 57 vials of Moderna vaccines because he believed they were “unsafe” and could alter people’s DNA. He admitted to leaving the vaccines, which require refrigerated or ultra-cold storage, out for several hours each night.
“Ensuring access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is critical to the well-being of everyone in our communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Richard Frohling. “The Department of Justice is committed to working with its federal, state, and local partners to hold individuals who seek to tamper with these vaccines fully accountable."
At least 57 people received doses of vaccines from those vials. A state board suspended Brandenburg’s pharmacy license in January. He was originally licensed in 1997.
Brandenburg initially faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. The district judge overseeing his case opted to hand him a lighter sentence because he expressed remorse and didn’t have a criminal record.
“This was a serious, serious offense,” U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig said, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal. “He threatened to impose defeat through the jaws of victory.”
Brandenburg openly apologized to family and co-workers for tampering with the vaccines at his sentencing hearing, saying he felt “great shame.”
“I did not have the right to make this decision,” Brandenburg said. “I’m tormented by it daily.”
Brandenburg became a vaccine skeptic after his daughter was diagnosed with eczema after receiving an inoculation, according to his legal team. The 46-year-old, however, also endorsed other mainstream conspiracies including flat earth theories and 9/11 trutherism.
His attorney, Jason Baltz, blamed Brandenburg’s actions on the intense professional pressure of working in health care during the pandemic. He also alleged that Brandenburg’s divorce left him “reeling.”
During the trial, prosecutors outlined a pattern of Brandenburg’s “disturbing” professional behavior. He once attempted to convince colleagues to receive inoculations of saline rather than be injected with a flu vaccine, which is mandatory for employees. Another time, prosecutors said he brought a pistol to work and showed it to a fellow worker.
Aurora Medical Center where Brandeburg worked said the disgraced pharmacist’s actions distressed both patients and staff.
"The team is still very troubled," the facility’s president Michelle Blakely said, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal. "This has been absolutely devastating for the organization."
Brandenburg was originally charged in Ozaukee County for misdemeanor attempted criminal damage to property before he was federally charged. The case remains open, according to officials.