Houston Doctor Fired for Scrambling to Use Expiring Vaccines Will Not Be Indicted
Dr. Hasan Gokal was able to find 10 people to give the remaining shots from an opened vial of vaccine. A district attorney brought the case to a grand jury.,
A Houston doctor who was fired after a late-night scramble to use expiring vaccine will not be indicted.
By Dan Barry
- June 30, 2021, 5:19 p.m. ET
A grand jury in Texas declined on Wednesday to indict a Houston doctor who was accused earlier this year of stealing 10 doses of Covid-19 vaccine — worth a total of $135 — and inoculating a few faint acquaintances and finally his wife in a late-night race in December to use the medicine before it expired.
The doctor, Hasan Gokal, received support for his actions from, among others, the Texas Medical Association and the Harris County Medical Society. But the Harris County district attorney, Kim Ogg, chose to present the case to a grand jury, even after a criminal court judge had dismissed the matter in January for lack of probable cause.
The allegation upended Dr. Gokal’s life. He was fired from his government job and his name ricocheted around the world. A news release from the district attorney’s office asserted that the doctor “stole the vial,” and, according to Ms. Ogg, had “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.”
After a monthlong investigation by prosecutors and two days of testimony, a grand jury in Harris County disagreed.
Dr. Gokal expressed relief in a telephone call Wednesday afternoon. “For the first time in six months I’m going to be able to go to bed tonight and not wake up in the middle thinking about this,” he said.
His lawyer, Paul Doyle, said, “What a colossal waste of time.”
In late December, Dr. Gokal, 48, a veteran emergency room doctor then working for the Harris County Public Health Department, set up a vaccination event in the Houston suburb of Humble. Just as the event was about to close for the night, an eligible person showed up. A nurse punctured a new vial to administer the vaccine, which activated the six-hour time limit for its 10 remaining doses.
Dr. Gokal later said that he was determined to abide by his understanding that not a dose of the precious vaccine should be wasted. Colleagues at the event either declined or already had been vaccinated. So, as he drove home to a neighboring county, he called acquaintances to ask whether they knew of older people needing to be immunized.
Within a few frantic hours, he had vaccinated various people in need, most of them older or in fragile health, and unknown to him. As midnight approached, he had one last dose and no one to vaccinate, so he presented the situation to his wife, whose pulmonary sarcoidosis made her eligible — but she was hesitant.
“It makes perfect sense,” he later said he told her. “We don’t want any doses wasted, period.”
The next morning, Dr. Gokal submitted the documentation for the 10 people he had vaccinated with that last vial. Several days later, he was fired from his county job; he said he was told that he should have returned the doses to the office, which by then was closed, or thrown them away.
Soon after, the district attorney’s office issued its news release, with the headline “Fired Harris County Health Doctor Charged with Stealing Vial of Covid-19 Vaccine.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Gokal — who, since his firing, has been volunteering at a nonprofit health clinic for the uninsured — was busy answering congratulatory text messages and telephone calls. He said he was looking forward to a return to normality for his wife and three children.
Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office issued a statement that read in part: “We respect the decision of the grand jury in this and every case. Evidence, not public opinion, is the guiding principle of our work.”