A Texas public health doctor charged with stealing a vial of Covid-19 vaccine was trying to use leftover doses so they wouldn’t go to waste, his attorney said Friday.
Dr. Hasan Gokal has been charged with theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said in a statement Thursday.
Gokal is accused of taking a vial with nine doses on December 29, 2020. He was working at a vaccination site in Humble, north of Houston, Ogg said.
Authorities contend the doctor “disregarded county protocols in place to ensure vaccine is not wasted but administered to vulnerable populations and front-line workers on a waiting list.”
“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,” Ogg said in the statement. “What he did was illegal, and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”
On Friday, Gokal’s attorney, Paul Doyle, said his client was simply trying to use all the doses left over in an open vial instead of throwing them away.
In a news conference, Doyle said a new vial had to be opened to administer a vaccine to the last person that showed up on December 29, 2020, around 6:45 p.m. CT, leaving 10 doses left over.
“As they wrap up, they have a vial that has now a six-hour (shelf life),” Doyle said, “and Dr. Gokal is faced with the issue of what to do with it.”
According to Doyle, Gokal looked to law enforcement and the medical staff at the site, but they had already been vaccinated. He then began contacting as many people as he could, Doyle said, to find eligible recipients for the leftover doses.
Gokal ended up vaccinating several eligible individuals, Doyle said, including elderly people Gokal “provides pro bono medicine to” and several individuals he found through acquaintances.
“What Dr. Gokal is doing is trying to find people who qualify with the goal of not wasting and throwing way this vaccine,” Doyle said.
When he had one dose left, Gokal then vaccinated his wife – who Doyle said also qualified – after another person who was going to receive the vaccine suddenly said he was unavailable.
“The allegation that he put his family in the front of the line and his friends in front of the line is absolutely false,” Doyle said.
Gokal told a fellow employee what he did and that person reported him to supervisors, authorities said. He was later fired.
But Doyle said Friday his client went to the office the next morning and followed correct procedures for reporting the administered doses. Doyle claimed his client was fired January 8 after confirming to human resources representatives that he inoculated his wife.
Asked for comment regarding Doyle’s news conference, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office sent CNN the charging documents in Gokal’s case.
Those documents cite the director of Harris County Public Health, who told investigators any vial that had been punctured and still contained viable doses were supposed to be brought back to their main office, and that a procedure was in place to make sure leftover doses were administered to at-risk front-line workers.
Additionally, there’s a secondary waiting list to ensure each dose is administered and not wasted, the documents state.
Harris County Public Health said that it will not release a statement.
Gokal has turned himself into authorities, Doyle said.