Pakistani-American Doctor Fired For Giving Away Expiring COVID19 Vaccine
Dr. Hasan Gokal, Pakistani-American medical director of Harris County COVID Response Team, has been charged with stealing COVID19 Moderna vaccine and fired from his job, according to media reports. Dr. Gokal's "crime" is to give away unused coronavirus vaccine doses that would have expired and lost if not used within hours. A Texas judge has dismissed charges against him.
|Dr. Hasan Gokal|
Each vial of Moderna vaccine has 10 doses. Once it is punctured, the vaccine expires within 6 hours. After administering COVID19 vaccine to all the front-line healthcare workers who showed up for their appointment, Gokal gave the remaining expiring doses of the vaccine to acquaintances and strangers, including a bed-bound woman in her 90s, a woman in her 80s with dementia, several men and women in their 60s and 70s with health issues, and a mother with a child on a ventilator, according to New York Times. After midnight and just minutes before the vial would expire, the final person called and said he wouldn’t make it. Gokal turned to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that causes shortness of breath, and gave her the last dose.
Even after dismissal of charges against him, Dr. Gokal still doesn’t have a job and instead volunteers at a nonprofit health clinic. Now his lawyer is pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit, according to ABC Channel13. “An apology by Harris County Public Health and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office towards Dr. Gokal and his family will not be enough,” Paul Doyle, Gokal’s lawyer, told the news outlet.
Dr. Gokal is among thousands of Pakistani-American doctors who have been at the forefront of saving lives in the middle of the devastating COVID19 pandemic that has taken over 400,000 American lives so far. Among them is Dr. Syra Madad, Pakistani-American head of New York City’s Health and Hospitals System-wide Special Pathogens Program, who is featured in a 6-part Netflix documentary series "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak".
Pakistani-American doctors are the 3rd largest among foreign-educated doctors in America. Among the notable names of Pakistani-American doctors engaged in the fight against Covid-19 are: Dr. Saud Anwar in Connecticut, Dr. Gul Zaidi in New York and Dr. Umair Shah in Texas. Their work has received positive media coverage in recent weeks.
Dr. Saud Anwar, a Connecticut pulmonologist and state senator, came up with a ventilator splitter to deal with the shortages of life-saving equipment. Dr. Gul Zaidi, an acute-care pulmonologist in Long Island, was featured in a CBS 60 Minutes segment on how the doctors are dealing with unprecedented demands to save lives. Dr. Umair Shah was interviewed about his work by ABC TV affiliate in Houston, Texas.
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The only reason this case is still going on is the racial bias but both Harris county public health ( Mrz Anderson’s words.... “too many Indian names”, and the DA Kim Ogg who should have more pressing issues to attend to than try to prosecute a doctor who did what is right
The judge continued, picking apart the affidavit prosecutors used to charge Gokal:
The affidavit describes County procedures as forbidding “personal use” of the vaccine, but then fails to describe what “personal use” is under those procedures. The affidavit claims the defendant administered doses to several people who “may have” been offsite and that he documented those doses as required by the procedures of Harris County Public Health.
The tale of Dr. Hasan Gokal seems too outrageous to be true: a doctor gave 10 leftover doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals with serious health conditions rather than throw those doses in the trash. (The doses “would expire within hours,” the Times explained; rather than allow the scarce and precious treatments to go to waste, the doctor acted.)
Various officials and criminal prosecutors weren’t happy.
When the doctor explained how he’d found patients in need of vaccination, officials — apparently with Harris County Public Health — told him that there’d been too many Indian names on the list.
Dr. Gokal was then criminally prosecuted, fired from his public health job, and subjected to public disgrace.
Additional facts as reported by the New York Times do little to color Gokal’s prosecution as reasonable.
Dr. Gokal had been supervising a vaccination event in late December in the Houston suburb of Humble, Texas. The event was the first of its kind and had been minimally publicized, which lead to 10 vaccine dose vials being opened without recipients immediately available. In an effort to ensure the vaccine wasn’t wasted, Gokal checked with workers at the event to see if they needed vaccinations. They didn’t. He called a Harris County public health official to inform them about the soon-expiring doses and explained he’d be looking for recipients. The official said, “OK.”
Further, the court noted, “the affidavit is riddled with sloppiness and errors,” and “The credibility and reliability of the statements in the affidavit are never established by the unidentified affiant.”
Judge Bynum’s scathing order did more for the doctor than simply ending his criminal case: it set up Gokal for a potentially strong civil lawsuit against Harris County for malicious prosecution. Under Texas law, a person whose criminal prosecution has been dismissed for lack of probable cause can hold the prosecutor civilly liable for malicious prosecution if that person can prove the charges (1) were filed with malice, and (2) that they — the plaintiff — suffered “special damages.”
Gokal, who has now lost his job and incurred legal expenses, will have no trouble proving the element of special damages. The term “special” distinguishes direct out-of-pocket damages from less quantifiable ones like pain and suffering.
Under the leading Texas case regarding “malice” for purposes of malicious prosecution, “malice” is defined as “ill will or evil motive, or such gross indifference or reckless disregard for the rights of others as to amount to a knowing, unreasonable, wanton, and willful act.” As the Texas Supreme Court has explained, malice does not require personal spite or ill will; rather, it is enough if the defendant prosecutor acted with reckless disregard to a victim’s rights and with indifference as to resulting injury.
T. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America recognized healthcare workers for being on the front lines during the ongoing pandemic.
"I think there's strength in numbers," said Dr. Tariq Alam, St. Louis Chapter President of APPNA. "One physician alone can't win this fight. We all have to pour in our ideas. Get the best from everyone and get the best solution for our region."
For the 250-plus members, collaborating across healthcare networks in our region was easy, Dr. Alam said. He also says it brought doctors closer to the community.
"We have many who have language barriers, or economic barriers," Dr. Alam said. "Basically being able to reach out to them, I think that is one of our highlights."
Member and St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan said there's not enough praise to go around.
"The only reason we aren't looking at a 3 million or 4 million death count is because of the selfless work and sacrifice of healthcare providers across the country," Dr. Khan said. "We owe them everything."
Khan said the work isn't done yet.
"I am very happy that nearly 35% in the St. Louis region is vaccinated," Dr. Khan said. "I am equally worried that 65% of us are not. We are not out of this yet."
Khan is happy that county leaders support strong health guidelines until we cross the finish line. He said it's going to take more community action before things return to normal.
"It depends entirely on how the virus behaves, on the number of people getting vaccinated and the spread of disease in smaller communities in high-risk groups," Khan said.
Until then, doctors say mask up and get the vaccine or encourage others to do so.
The doctor believed he was doing the right thing after Jennifer Shuford, chief epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services, warned physicians not to waste the shots and said it was even acceptable to give leftover doses to ineligible people if the vaccines would otherwise expire.
But on Jan. 7, Harris County Public Health fired Gokal for doling out the shots. Officials within the county health department then shared false information with the local district attorney’s office, Gokal said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, spurring prosecutors to bring criminal charges against Gokal for allegedly stealing vaccine vials and giving shots to friends and family. That month, he was charged with theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that was ultimately dismissed.
Gokal is suing Harris County Public Health for wrongfully firing him, orchestrating a “misinformation campaign” aimed at stripping him of his medical license, and discriminating against the doctor based on his race and national origin. Harris County Public Health did not immediately return a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday.
The termination and subsequent efforts to pursue criminal charges against Gokal left him struggling to find a new job in public health, he said.
“If you Google my name, you’ll see ‘doctor theft,’ ‘doctor theft,’ so on and so forth,” Gokal told KTRK on Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, a human resources director allegedly told the doctor that he “did not ‘equitably’ distribute the vaccine and gave 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 vaccine expired “happen to be South Asian.” Gokal, who is from Pakistan, sought out at-risk patients “without race in mind,” according to the suit. Instead, it adds, he tried to ensure that the extra doses went to people who were particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.
The lawsuit said that Harris County Public Health did not properly investigate the allegations made against Gokal. 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.