A Harris County Public Health doctor was fired after allegedly stealing nine doses of COVID-19 vaccine, said District Attorney Kim Ogg on Thursday. The doctor is now facing criminal charges for stealing the vaccine doses to administer them to his family and friends.
According to reports, officials said that the accused, Dr. Hasan Gokal, stole a vial of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine while working at the county vaccination site at Lyndsay Lyons Park in Humble on December 29, 2020.
A week later, when he told a fellow health employee about the alleged theft, the co-worker informed the supervisors. It was reported that Dr. Gokal stole a vial of vaccine that was close to expiration.
Abuse of Position
Ogg said in the statement, "[Gokal] 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. What he did was illegal and he'll be held accountable under the law."
The district attorney also alleged that the Texas doctor's actions violated country protocols meant to ensure vaccines are not wasted but administered to vulnerable people and front-line workers on a waiting list.
Gokal's attorney, Paul Doyle, described the doctor as a "dedicated public servant" in a statement. The lawyer said the doctor "ensured that COVID-19 vaccine dosages that would have otherwise expired went into the arms of people who met the criteria for receiving it." Doyle also said the health officials would have rather let the COVID-19 vaccines go to waste. "[Harris County health officials] are attempting to disparage this man's reputation in the process to support this policy," added the attorney.
The doctor faces a Class A Misdemeanor. If convicted, he could face up to a year in jail and be required to pay a $4,000 as a fine. Dr. Gokal is being prosecuted by the Public Corruption Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 15.7 million Covid-19 vaccines had been given to Americans out of 31.2 million distributed doses. Approved vaccines distributed by the US government need refrigerated storage units.
While Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine can be kept in a standard freezer unit for up to six months or inside a regular refrigerator for up to 30 days, the other vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech needs to be kept in a commercial freezer unit at roughly minus 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The latter can only be stored in a standard refrigerator for roughly five days, not more than that.
An Ohio COVID-19 vaccine distributor, SpecialtyRx was suspended on Wednesday, January 20 after 890 Moderna vaccine doses were found to be non-viable. As per reports, the temperature in SpecialtyRx's refrigeration units was left unmonitored—this is a violation of policies set by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
In early January, Healthcare workers at a Northern California hospital decided to administer 800 Moderna vaccines within just two hours. The decision was taken after a freezer that used to store the Moderna vaccines was found to be at room temperature. So, the healthcare professionals decided to vaccinate as many people as possible within a limited period of time, as they did not want to let any vaccine go waste.