- Houston-based Dr. Hasan Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, administered shots to the needy instead of wasting them. He still faces a grand jury investigation initiated by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
The Texas Medical Board has cleared Dr. Hasan Gokal of wrongdoing in connection to accusations that he took unused doses from a drive-thru vaccination clinic and administered them to family and friends. In a statement issued on March 16, the board said it’s dismissing the charges against the Harris County public health doctor. 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, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
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.
Gokal’s attorney Paul Doyle told Houston NBC affiliate KPRC that the board’s conclusion is “a huge relief. It’s a big win and it was the right thing to do.”
However the case is far from over.
Gokal still faces a grand jury investigation initiated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. This despite a January ruling by a Harris County judge, which dismissed the original charges against him – misdemeanor count of theft by a public servant. Announcing his decision on Jan. 21, criminal court judge Franklin Bynum said: “In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency.”
Following the board’s decision, Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office released a statement. “We anticipate presenting all of the evidence in this matter to a grand jury, so representatives of the community can determine whether a criminal charge is appropriate,” he said. “There has been a difference of opinion on the evidence, with a magistrate judge finding that there was probable cause to charge a crime and a misdemeanor judge finding that there was not. Our work continues.”
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 volunteers extensively as well, rebuilding homes and providing medical care after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Prior to 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.