A Texas doctor who was fired from his role as medical director for Harris County’s COVID response team said he was accused of “equity” violations for administering expiring doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired from his public health job and was charged with stealing vaccine doses after he took an open vial from a vaccine site and delivering the ten remaining shots — which would have expired in six hours — to strangers, acquaintances, and his sick wife.
According to Gokal, who immigrated from Pakistan as a child, one county health official suggested the reason was “there were too many Indian names in that group.”
Gokal told the New York Times in an interview that, ahead of the vaccine rollout, he was told by state health officials that “we don’t want any doses to go to waste. Period.” And in December, after Harris County’s first public vaccination site for emergency workers ended up with an open vial, Gokal said he called a public health official and was given the go-ahead to find takers for the ten remaining doses.
After finding people willing to take the vaccine — “no one I was really intimately familiar with,” Gokal said — the last person cancelled and Gokal decided to ask his wife, who suffers from pulmonary sarcoidosis, if she wanted the last dose.
“I didn’t intend to give this to you, but in a half-hour I’m going to have to dump this down the toilet,” he recalled to the Times. “It’s as simple as that.”
The next day, Gokal submitted paperwork for the people he gave the vaccine to, but was fired several days later. Gokal said officials told him that he should have returned the expiring doses or thrown them out, rather than administer them. One supervisor also questioned the “equity” of the people he chose to give the vaccine to.
“Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?” Gokal said he asked, and was told yes.
After being fired, Gokal was charged with stealing the doses by Harris County’s district attorney Kim Ogg, even though Gokal said he was never contacted or interviewed about his story beforehand.
Last month, a local judge dismissed the case, calling the situation an “attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician,” but the case could still be brought to a grand jury.
“Representatives of the community can vote on whether an indictment is warranted,” the district attorney’s office told the Times.
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