Doctor cleared of COVID-19 vaccine theft sues Harris County
A doctor who was fired after Houston-area public health officials accused him of stealing vials of COVID-19 vaccine to administer to family and friends sued the county Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against South Asians and issuing disinformation about him.
The lawsuit filed on Dr. Hasan Gokal’s behalf seeks unspecified damages.
Gokal said his supervisor in the Harris County Public Health department and a representative from the department’s human resources office accused him of giving the vaccine to too many people of South Asian origin or descent late the first night of the Moderna vaccine rollout in a north Harris County parking lot last December. All those present had been vaccinated, and there were 10 doses left.
None of the volunteers and police at the rollout wanted them, Gokal said, so he made late-night calls to people he knew, and even his wife, who were eligible to receive the doses. “So that evening, I actually went around making sure all those 10 doses were given out,” he said.
“There wasn’t one single person who was turned down (for vaccination) who was at risk that he could have given it to instead,” said Michael Killingsworth, Gokal’s attorney.
Gokal said he routinely reported and documented what he did. He said he was told, “Oh, you admit it? So, you’re fired.”
“It was stated in no uncertain terms,” Gokal said in a video interview from his Houston attorney’s office Tuesday. “The conversation specifically was, as I was being told I did the wrong things, ‘Well, you didn’t give it out equitably.’ I asked him, ‘Equitably? What do you mean equitably? Are you saying there’s too many Indian names in the group?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Exactly.’”
The department charged him with misdemeanor theft, which a judge dismissed, and reported him to the state’s medical licensing board. County officials still presented the theft case to the grand jury, however, a process that took six months before the jury finally cleared him.
The medical licensing board had cleared him long before then, and he was able to resume practicing emergency medicine at Houston-area hospitals.
A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office referred requests for a response to the county attorney’s office, which did not immediately return a message.