HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - A doctor accused of stealing a vial of COVID-19 vaccine is now sharing his side of the story. Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired from Harris County Public Health last month.
Dr. Gokal said the Texas Medical Board is now investigating his medical license. He worries his reputation could be ruined forever.
"I believed I was doing the thing that was right, the thing that was expected, and that was morally correct," said Dr. Gokal.
Dr. Gokal said he doesn’t regret the decision he made to not waste a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
While working at a county distribution site in December, Dr. Gokal admits taking an opened vial of Moderna vaccine off-site, to administer doses to friends and family who qualified. The vaccine would have expired in six hours.
"My experience comes from emergency medicine where at the end of the day, my patients' life always trumps any issues and questions, that arise. We always err on the side of human life and that’s what I tried to do," Gokal said.
During the Arctic blast week, Houston Methodist lost power to one of its generators housing hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines. To not waste any doses, hospital staff were asked to spread the word and invite anyone nearby to come get the vaccine within the six-hour time frame. Dr. Gokal said he wishes his case was granted the same grace.
"You’ve both got a limited amount of time. You’ve got six hours left. You’ve got this urgency to not waste vaccine so precious in a time of a pandemic; all these things were very much the same. I think they did the right thing by getting it out to whoever they could and I applaud their actions. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have a precedent for mine because mine was the first roll out," Gokal said.
Dr. Gokal claims there was no protocol in place at the county site, just guidelines from the state’s department of health services to not let any vaccine go to waste.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office charged him with theft last month. But records show, a judge later dismissed the charges for not having probable cause.
His attorney, Paul Doyle says investigators never conducted their due diligence.
"Before these charges were filed, normally what you do in a criminal investigation is you go to the suspect and you ask the suspect if they want to talk. They skipped that step," Doyle said.
"This is a unique case. There shouldn’t be a rush to judgment, a rush to have a press conference. When you do look at the circumstances, he should be applauded, he should be held out as a hero rather than a villain," Doyle continued.
"When you look up my name on Google, you’ll see doctor charged, theft, etc and those other things that are outstanding. I’ve worked very hard all my life to do the right thing, keep my reputation clean, so on and so forth; and within a matter of minutes, it all fell apart," Gokal said.
Although the theft charges have been dismissed by a judge, the DA’s office has mentioned potentially turning the case over to a grand jury.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office released a statement saying,
"As the court record shows, a magistrate judge agreed with our prosecutors that there was sufficient evidence to charge the defendant with a crime, but a misdemeanor judge later disagreed. Because of the conflicting opinions, all the evidence will be presented to a grand jury. Grand jurors – who are members of the community - can decide whether the defendant should be charged or the case dropped. We are ethically prohibited from going into specifics about the evidence.
The county health department has been trying to protect its limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine and prosecutors were contacted because this defendant had access to the vaccine due to his employment, and as court records show, he admitted he took it away from a facility without receiving authorization to do so.
Rather than follow procedures and return the vaccine to the county, where there was a mechanism in place to ensure it would not be wasted, he instead administered it to his own family and friends, according to court records."