Before the closure of a vaccine site in Humble,TX at 7 PM on December 29, Hasan Gokal hurriedly distributed 10 Moderna leftover doses before the vial expired.
The doctor, after getting permission from his supervisor, called elderly and at-risk patients who were qualified to get the shot in the earliest phases of the nationwide vaccine rollout. He spotted 10 people with underlying comorbidities who agreed to get the vaccine doses. Gokal went around the Houston area over the next five hours to administer the vaccine to nine people. He missed the 10th person before the vaccine vial’s expiry, so Gokal administered the last dose to his wife, who was suffering from a lung disease affecting her breathing.
The doctor insists he did the right thing after Jennifer Shuford, chief epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services, advised doctors not to waste the shots and said it was acceptable to administer leftover doses even to unqualified people if the vaccines would otherwise expire.
However on Jan. 7, Harris County Public Health fired Gokal for dispensing those vaccine shots. According to the lawsuit, the officials within the county health department shared false information with the local district attorney’s office triggering criminal charges against Gokal by the prosecutors for allegedly stealing vaccine vials and giving shots to friends and family. That month, he was accused of theft by a public servant, a violation that was eventually dismissed.
On Tuesday, Gokal filed a case against the Harris County Public Health for unfairly firing him, manufacturing a “misinformation campaign” directed at taking out his medical license, and discriminating against the doctor based on his race and national origin. Harris County Public Health did not comment on the matter yet when requested by The Washington Post early Wednesday.
Gokal shared that the termination and subsequent efforts to pursue criminal charges caused his struggles of finding a new job in public health.
Gokal in his statement to KTRK on Tuesday said, “If you Google my name, you’ll see ‘doctor theft,’ ‘doctor theft,’ so on and so forth.”
According to the lawsuit, a human resources director allegedly told the doctor of his ‘inequitable distribution’ of the vaccine by giving the vaccine to too many individuals with ‘Indian’ sounding names.” Gokal’s attorney told KTRK that the 10 individuals Gokal was able to reach before the expiry of tha vaccine vials “happen to be South Asian.” Gokal, who hails from Pakistan, looked for at-risk patients “without race in mind,” as stated in the lawsuit. Furthermore the suit adds, instead, he tried to make sure that the extra doses were administered to at-risk individuals to the novel coronavirus due to underlying health issues.
Harris County Public Health failed to carry out a proper investigation of the allegations made against Gokal, according to the lawsuit. The department “never interviewed Dr. Gokal, never took his statement, never asked for his side of the story, conducted no internal investigation of the matter, and never sought to get the facts straight,” the lawsuit states.
Gokal has bluntly denied allegations made against him, including the accusation that he gave the leftover doses to individuals he knew personally.
“The only individual that qualifies as a ‘friend’ or ‘family’ that received the vaccine is his wife, who Dr. Gokal did not give the vaccine to until time had nearly run out and with no one else available to receive the last vaccine dose,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also claims that people within the public health department sought to harm Gokal’s reputation and pursued “a revenge campaign rooted in discriminatory-based disdain.” The suit claims that members of the department sought to further punish Gokal by allegedly sharing false information with prosecutors in an attempt to convince the Texas Medical Board to revoke the doctor’s medical license.
“Upon receiving Dr. Gokal’s side of the story and the evidence he submitted, the Texas Medical Board immediately dismissed the complaint on March 9, 2021,” the lawsuit said. “The Texas Medical Board stated that Dr. Gokal ‘administered doses of the coronavirus vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted.’”
A judge similarly dismissed a criminal charge leveled against Gokal on Jan. 25, saying that the prosecution’s affidavit was “riddled with sloppiness and errors.” Prosecutors were persistent in pursuing the allegations for several months, but a Harris County grand jury refused to indict Gokal in June.
Even if Gokal was later on cleared of the accusations by the courts and the medical board, he found it hard to get employed after his termination, the lawsuit said.
Despite the reviews of the medical board on the complaints and the court’s decision on the criminal charge against Gokal, the doctor “could not work because employers were reluctant to hire him given the publicity of the allegations made against him,” the lawsuit said. ” … Dr. Gokal went through a tortured six-month criminal investigation during which time his reputation was tarnished, his confidence was shattered, and he and his family were subjected to emotional distress.”