A Texas doctor in Harris County, Dr. Hasan Gokal, was accused of stealing a COVID-19 vaccine to give to friends and family. The District Attorney said he was facing a Class 3 Misdemeanor if found guilty and “will be held accountable under the law.” But a judge dismissed the suit and the charges are now dropped. The doctor himself said he administered the doses to eligible patients he personally knew only after he couldn’t find anyone at the county site and the doses were about to expire.
Here’s what you need to know.
A Judge Dismissed the Lawsuit Against the Texas Doctor
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told KHOU 11 that Gokal was fired and charged with “theft by a public servant” after admitting to a colleague that he took a vaccine vial. A Texas judge later dismissed the case.
Ogg said in her initial public statement that the vial contained nine doses and was taken when Gokal was working at Lyndsay Lyons Park on December 29 in Humble, Texas, Chron.com reported. He later told a co-worker about what happened, and the colleague reported him. The Public Corruption Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was investigating the Class A Misdemeanor charge, which could have brought a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail, KHOU 11 reported.
County Court-At-Law Judge Franklin Bynum dismissed the case and criticized Ogg for the prosecution, saying that Ogg lacked probable cause, LMT Online reported.
Ogg had originally said about the incident in a public statement: “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. What he did was illegal, and he’ll be held accountable under the law… [He] disregarded county protocols in place to ensure vaccine is not wasted but administered to vulnerable populations and front-line workers on a waiting list.”
But Bynum said that the affidavit was “riddled with sloppiness and errors.”
Through his attorney, Gokal clarified that he offered the vaccines to health workers and police because they were expiring in a few hours, and was turned down. He called a supervisor who didn’t know of any patients who could get the doses, so then he administered the doses to eligible recipients he was personally able to find, including his chronically ill wife. He said he entered all the doses into a database.
According to Gokal’s LinkedIn profile, he’s an emergency physician in Houston. Shortly after the public statement was made, a man by the same name and same job listing made a public post on Facebook about the vaccines, saying that Harris County’s policies went against the policies of Texas health services and were leading to doses of the vaccine being wasted.
He wrote: “Department of STATE HEALTH SERVICES of TEXAS says: “DSHS would recommend that the doses left in a punctured vial be given to people in groups 1a and 1b, if at all possible. However, there are going to be times when there is one or two doses left in the bottom of the vial and no potential recipients in those priority populations. In those cases, we recommend giving those left over doses to whoever is willing and has no contraindications. In the end, we want every dose used and none wasted.HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH INSISTS THAT IT’S STAFF WASTE DAILY DOSES, AGAINST THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE STATE.”
Houston Chronicle reported that Gokal’s medical license is active and he’s been practicing for 21 years, including nine years in the United States.
The vaccine rollout in the Houston region and other parts of Texas have been slower, KHOU 11 reported. Only 10% of Texans eligible for the first dose have received them. In the Houston region, only Galveston and Fort Bend counties vaccinated higher than that average, while Harris County was at 10%.