This doctor was charged with stealing 10 doses of the COVID vaccine. A judge said he didn’t do anything wrong

A line of prepped COVID-19 vaccine doses on a table
Photo via Maryland National Guard/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A Houston doctor was fired for using 10 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were set to expire on members of his community, including his wife. But some people think he did the right thing, even though he was charged with stealing the vaccines.

Dr. Hasan Gokal was assisting in a county vaccination event in late December when, near the end of the day, a patient came in for a vaccine. Forced to open a new vial of vaccines to administer the dose, Gokal was left with 10 vaccine doses and no one left in line. The doses become unusable six hours after being opened, giving the Texas doctor very little time to use the vaccines. 

In an interview with the New York Times, he said he asked around the vaccination site and after finding no one in need of a shot, he began seeking eligible people in his community. He managed to use all 10 doses before they expired. In response, he was fired from his job and charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses, a misdemeanor. 

In the aftermath of Gokal’s firing, the theft charge was widely reported. What followed was the “lowest moment” in Gokal’s life, he told the newspaper. People broadly condemned him, particularly as millions of people around the globe await their chance to get the vaccine. “It was my world coming down. To have everything collapse on you,” Gokal told the Times. “God, it was the lowest moment in my life.”

Despite the initial condemnation Gokal’s actions received, some opinions are now shifting in the opposite direction. His attorney argued that he acted responsibly. He noted that health officials advised those administering the vaccine to “Just put it in people’s arms. We don’t want any doses to go to waste. Period.” So when he was presented with the possibility of 10 wasted doses, Gokal sought a solution. All of the patients he inoculated with the leftover doses qualified, according to Gokal. Even his wife. 

His charges were ultimately dismissed by a criminal court judge. “In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency,” Judge Franklin Bynum wrote. “The Court emphatically rejects this attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician.”

Despite the judge’s statement and statements of support from both the Texas Medical Association and Harris County Medical, Gokal continues to suffer from the fallout of those 10 extra doses. He lost his job and has been asked to avoid returning to any of the hospitals he frequents until his case is fully resolved. His wife is struggling to sleep, and his children are worried.

The case is expected to resolve in his favor, but that doesn’t help his situation in the short term.

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Sources: CNN, New York Times, ABC13

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