Wisconsin pharmacist who tried to spoil COVID-19 vaccine to plead guilty

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin pharmacist accused of trying to defrost and spoil dozens of vials of COVID-19 vaccine has agreed to plead guilty in federal court.

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Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton is charged with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Police arrested Brandenburg on Dec. 31 as part of an investigation into how 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine were left for hours outside a refrigerator at Advocate Aurora Health in the Milwaukee suburb of Grafton. The vials contained enough vaccine to inoculate more than 500 people.

Detectives wrote in court documents that Brandenburg is an admitted conspiracy theorist who believed the vaccine would mutate recipients’ DNA. Experts have said there’s no truth to the claims that COVID-19 vaccines can genetically modify humans.

“Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger said in a statement. “As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone — and especially any medical professional — who tampers with the vaccine.”

Jason Baltz, Brandenburg’s attorney, declined to comment Tuesday to The Associated Press.