A Texas doctor had a grim choice one night in late December. The remaining doses in a vial of COVID-19 vaccine would spoil within hours unless injected into willing patients, but Dr. Hasan Gokal couldn’t find enough of them. Instead of throwing them away, Gokal traveled around in his community, digging up enough people willing to take the vaccines before they expired. With just minutes to go and no one else on hand, Gokal gave the final dose to his wife.
Is Gokal a hero for ensuring that these doses resulted in vaccinations, boosting efforts to cut down community transmission? Or is Gokal a thief, and worse yet, a criminal against “equity”?
The Texas doctor had six hours. Now that a vial of Covid-19 vaccine had been opened on this late December night, he had to find 10 eligible people for its remaining doses before the precious medicine expired. In six hours.
Scrambling, the doctor made house calls and directed people to his home outside Houston. Some were acquaintances; others, strangers. A bed-bound nonagenarian. A woman in her 80s with dementia. A mother with a child who uses a ventilator.
After midnight, and with just minutes before the vaccine became unusable, the doctor, Hasan Gokal, gave the last dose to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that leaves her short of breath.
For his actions, Dr. Gokal was fired from his government job and then charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses worth a total of $135 — a shun-worthy misdemeanor that sent his name and mug shot rocketing around the globe.
Aha, some might think, the dose to his wife is what set off the authorities. However, Gokal’s wife has serious chronic lung dysfunction, and may well have qualified under federal standards to receive the shot at that time. That wasn’t the issue that set off Gokal’s employer, however. Instead, it was Gokal’s lack of focus on “equity” that tipped the scale and led to his firing, at least according to Gokal’s testimony:
Several days later, the doctor said, that supervisor and the human resources director summoned him to ask whether he had administered 10 doses outside of the scheduled event on Dec. 29. He said he had, in keeping with guidelines not to waste the vaccine — and was promptly fired.
The officials maintained that he had violated protocol and should have returned the remaining doses to the office or thrown them away, the doctor recalled. He also said that one of the officials startled him by questioning the lack of “equity” among those he had vaccinated.
“Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?” Dr. Gokal said he asked.
Exactly, he said he was told.
This was — and still is — precisely the problem with the vaccine rollouts. Officials in and out of government have focused on “equity” issues to such an extent that they would rather spoil vaccine doses than allow them into willing arms. It’s not that equity issues don’t matter at all, but a deadly pandemic needs vaccinations to take place as widely and quickly as possible. Every dose lost is another person who can still spread the virus — and who can produce mutations of it that might make the pandemic worse.
Instead of hailing Gokal’s nimbleness in ensuring no dose gets wasted, his employer canned him and Harris County prosecutors charged him with theft. A judge dismissed the charge, writing that he “emphatically rejects” the notion of theft in the context of a doctor who vaccinates people in the middle of a public health emergency. Nonetheless, prosecutors then decided to take the case to the grand jury to see if they could reinstate the theft charge against Gokal.
One has to wonder, however, what another judge will do with the case even with a grand jury bill after Judge Franklin Bynum’s rebuke to prosecutors the first time around. Hopefully, that judge will also realize that this clown show is short one car. Gokal needs to get reinstated and thanked, not hounded out of his profession for ensuring that COVID-19 vaccine doses didn’t go to waste. And one has to wonder how many more doses are being left to spoil to this day because of the spectacle of this persecution of Gokal for just doing his job.