A Houston Doctor was Charged for Administering the COVID-19 Vaccine
by Nida A. Imam
Update as of March 17:
Although a grand jury could still decide to charge Dr. Gokal, the Texas Medical Board dismissed the cases against him for theft of COVID-19 vaccine doses, as of March 16, according to Houston local news ABC13.
“On a very personal level. I’m OK with being attacked and having to defend myself. I’m OK. That’s part of what happens, but when it started to hurt my loved ones, that’s the first time I found myself with tears in my eyes because I realized this wasn’t just me; this was having an impact on everybody. So it’s been really hard,” Gokal told Business Insider, explaining that family members in Singapore, Pakistan, Dubai and elsewhere all started getting calls about the news.
Everyone seems to be talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, from our new president to even tabloids reporting about celebrities who have received the vaccine so far. The precious medicine seems to have caught many people’s attention. But a less reported fact is that once a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine is opened, it must be administered before it expires in 12-hours.
As a result of preserving this vaccine, one physician in Texas found himself in a conflicting situation— he had to find at least 10 individuals to administer the vaccine within six hours. While Hasan Gokal was able to successfully find individuals to administer the vaccine to, he was later charged for theft by the county.
According to The New York Times, moments before going on his quest to find eligible individuals, Gokal spoke to a county public health official and was given an OK to find people to administer the remaining vaccines. While it was difficult he was able to administer the vaccine to 10 vulnerable individuals including his wife, who has pulmonary sarcoidosis. Gokal administered the vaccine to his wife 15-minutes before it expired.
According to WebMD, Gokal either met people he vaccinated at his home or traveled to their home to make use of the doses. He gave the doses to acquaintances and strangers, from several men and women in their 60s and 70s with health issues to a mother with a child on a ventilator.
Several days after he informed his supervisor and submitted paperwork for the 10 people he vaccinated, he was fired from his job. Per the Harris County’s Office of District Attorney website, he was charged with stealing a vial of COVID-19 vaccine.
“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,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.” The website noted that a Class A Misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $4,000 fine.
While the charges were dismissed by a judge in late January due to lack of probable cause, Gokal’s reputation remains damaged and he is currently jobless as the county district attorney plans to challenge the case in trial. Despite this, Gokal continues to help the community and volunteer locally at clinics for those without insurance.
“It is difficult to understand any justification for charging any well-intentioned physician in this situation with a criminal offense,” the Texas Medical Association and the Harris County Medical Society said in a statement.