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TX Doctor Fired for Giving Away Expiring Vaccines

Influenza virus

Feb. 16, 2021 -- A doctor near Houston, gave out 10 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine after an opened vial was set to expire in 6 hours. Then he was charged with stealing the vaccine and was fired from his job at the Harris County Public Health Department, according to The New York Times.

“It was my world coming down,” Hasan Gokal, MD, told the newspaper. “To have everything collapse on you. God, it was the lowest moment in my life.”

On Dec. 29, Gokal supervised a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Humble, TX. The last eligible person showed up for a shot just before the event closed at 7 p.m., and a nurse opened a new vial to give the vaccine. Gokal realized that the 6-hour expiration window had begun, so he looked for more people who could get a vaccine, starting with the health care workers and police officers at the event, who either declined or had already been vaccinated.

Gokal told The New York Times that he then called a public health official in Harris County to report his plans to dole out the remaining doses. He started calling people to find those who could get the vaccine and either met them at his home or traveled to their home to use up the doses.

Gokal gave the doses to acquaintances and strangers, including a bed-bound woman in her 90s, a woman in her 80s with dementia, several men and women in their 60s and 70s with health issues, and a mother with a child on a ventilator. After midnight and just minutes before the vial would expire, the final person called and said he wouldn’t make it. Gokal turned to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that causes shortness of breath, and gave her the last dose.

The next day, Gokal submitted paperwork on the 10 people who received the vaccine, including his wife. He also told The New York Times that he informed his supervisor and colleagues. But several days later, he was fired. Officials said he violated protocols.

“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Kim Ogg, the Harris County district attorney, said in a statement. “What he did was illegal, and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”

In late January, a judge dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause. But Gokal still doesn’t have a job and instead volunteers at a nonprofit health clinic. Now his lawyer is pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit, according to ABC 13.

“An apology by Harris County Public Health and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office towards Dr. Gokal and his family will not be enough,” Paul Doyle, Gokal’s lawyer, told the news outlet.

“The agency disparaged this good public servant’s name and took away his employment without cause,” he said. “More must be done by those responsible to make this right. We also sincerely hope this incident doesn’t deter other frontline medical personnel from doing everything they can to make sure vaccines are not wasted.”

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

The New York Times: “The Vaccine Had to Be Used. He Used It. He Was Fired.”
Harris County Office of District Attorney Kim Ogg: “Fired Harris County Health Doctor Charged With Stealing Vial of COVID-19 Vaccine.”
ABC 13: “Charge dropped against Harris County Public Health doctor accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccine doses.”
 

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