- Dr. Hasan Gokal, a Harris County Public Health worker, took an open but unused vial of Moderna vaccine and administered ten doses, including one to his wife who has pulmonary sarcoidosis.
A grand jury in Harris County, Texas, has ruled against indicting a Texas doctor who was accused of stealing 10 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020 from a Harris County Public Health District distribution site. Dr. Hasan Gokal was a Harris County Public Health worker when he took an open but unused vial of Moderna vaccine and administered ten doses, including one to his wife, Maria, 47, who has pulmonary sarcoidosis. The grand jury’s decision came after two days of testimony in Gokal’s case. “I’m still processing it to be honest,” Gokal told ABC 13 of the grand jury’s decision. “It’s a relief of the uncertainty that’s followed for the last six months.”
Gokal’s attorney Paul Doyle said his client appreciate the grand jury, “finally ending the prolonged, unwarranted attempt by District Attorney Kim Ogg and her office to disparage Dr. Gokal’s good name.” Doyle said in a statement. “We fully expected this outcome,” he said, adding: “No doctor should ever feel forced to choose between saving lives and keeping their job.”
In March, the Texas Medical Board cleared Dr. Hasan Gokal of any wrongdoing. Gokal “appeared to have administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted,” read the statement from the Board.
Gokal had been one of the faces of Harris County Public Health during the pandemic, featured in videos and on town hall panels.
On Dec. 29, 2020, Gokal, who was administering shots at the Lindsay Lyons Park, in Humble, took an open but unused vial of Moderna vaccine and administered ten doses, including one to his wife, Maria, 47, who has pulmonary sarcoidosis. He told the New York Times in an interview then that toward the end of the day, someone came to get a shot and activated the seal for the remaining 10 doses in the vial. He told the Times that he looked for people who weren’t vaccinated at the site but to no avail. He said people either refused or had already received a shot.
That’s when he decided to take the vial home and instead of wasting it. He then called a Harris County public official in charge of operations. When he shared his plan with him, Gokal told the Times that his response was “OK.” Then he said he called another high-ranking colleague whose parents and in-laws were eligible for the vaccine, but they weren’t available.
The following day, he submitted the paperwork for the 10 people he had vaccinated the previous night, including his wife. He said he also informed his supervisor and colleagues of what he had done, and why. Several days later, that supervisor and the human resources director summoned him. When he agreed to have given the vaccine outside of the scheduled event, “in keeping with guidelines not to waste the vaccine,” Gokal told the Times that he was “promptly fired.” Officials maintained that he had violated protocol and should have returned the remaining doses to the office or thrown them away.
As per CDC regulation, the 10 doses in a Moderna vial are viable for six hours after the seal is punctured.
Gokal was also fired from his job at the county, after an internal investigation by the health department. “It was my world coming down,” he told the New York Times then. “To have everything collapse on you. God, it was the lowest moment in my life.” He is still jobless and currently volunteers at a nonprofit health clinic for the uninsured. But the board said that Gokal “is still limited” to his future job options due to the ongoing pending criminal charges.
According to the Times, Gokal, 48, immigrated from Pakistan as a boy and earned a medical degree at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. “After working at hospitals in Central New York, he moved to Texas in 2009 to oversee the emergency department at a suburban Houston hospital,” the report said. He has volunteered extensively as well, rebuilding homes and providing medical care after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Before working with the county, Gokal told the Times that he was splitting his time between two area hospitals. When the pandemic hit early last year, he was forced to stay away from his home because of the risk of infecting his wife. He told the Times that he lived in a hotel for a month and then moved to a temporary apartment. However, in April, things changed for Gokal and he was recruited by the Harris County Public Health Department as the medical director for its Covid-response team. The job paid less, but Gokal was eager to protect his wife by limiting his exposure to the coronavirus in emergency rooms.