A Texas doctor was fired by the Harris County Public Health Department (HCPH) in January for allegedly stealing doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in the early days of its rollout. Having since been cleared of wrongdoing, he's suing, alleging that the department discriminated against him because of his race and national origin.
Prior to his dismissal, Dr. Hasan Gokal worked as the HCPH medical adviser for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Dec. 29, with his vaccination site set to close, he noticed an open vial of the Moderna vaccine that had about 10 doses remaining.
Gokal knew he had about six hours to distribute the doses, or else they would go to waste. The lawsuit alleges that Gokal asked staff members and police officers at the site if they wanted the doses, but everyone on site was either already vaccinated or did not want a shot.
According to the lawsuit, Gokal informed his supervisor that he would take it upon himself to find people with underlying health conditions who wanted a shot. The Washington Post reports that the Texas Department of Public Health Services had warned doctors against wasting shots and said it was OK to give doses to those who weren't yet eligible in the hopes of maximizing supply.
Gokal lined up 10 appointments and gave the injections at both his home and at patients' homes.
Minutes before the vaccines expired, Gokal found out one patient wouldn't make the appointment on time. He decided to give the final dose to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease.
On Jan. 7, the department fired Gokal for not distributing the vaccines "equitably." The lawsuit alleges that in terminating Gokal, HCPH officials claimed he "gave the vaccine to too many individuals with 'Indian' sounding names."
"'But what do you mean by 'equitably'? Are you saying there are too many Indian names in the group?'" Gokal told BuzzFeed News in speaking about the Jan. 7 meeting. "They said, 'exactly.'"
In late January, a district attorney charged Gokal with "theft by a public servant" and accused him of giving doses only to his friends and family. In the lawsuit, Gokal says the only "friend or family" member of his who received a vaccine dose on Dec. 29 was his wife.
The district attorney dropped the charges against Gokal in June. The Texas Medical Board also later dropped a complaint that had been filed against him.
BuzzFeed reports that Gokal is seeking more than $1 million in damages.