A Houston doctor is suing Harris County in Texas for discrimination after being accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccine doses and later acquitted by a grand jury.
Dr. Hasan Gokal worked with Harris County Public Health at their first vaccination site last December. Gokal went door-to-door at the end of each shift, looking for people who might be eligible for leftover doses of the Moderna vaccine that were about to expire.
Gokal was fired after being accused of breaking protocol. He was also charged with theft by District Attorney Kim Ogg.
In March, Harris County Public Health contacted the Texas Medical Board to start an investigation into unethical behavior, which was later dismissed. Gokal couldn’t work until the investigation was finished.
A grand jury acquitted Gokal of the charges in June.
Gokal told said in an interview that he began thinking about suing the county soon after the charges were dropped, but he didn’t seriously discuss it with a lawyer until about a month ago.
He expressed relief that the case against him had been dropped, but added that the past nine months had been difficult for him and his family, and that he hopes the lawsuit will bring him justice.
“The first few months of this was rough, not being able to do a job. Not sure if my career is over. What’s going to happen with the criminal charges and so on and so forth. Anybody in that level of stress and degree of uncertainty in life is going to be impacted by that uncertainty,” Gokal stated. “It was felt throughout my family. The kids are young and you can see the stress on them. My wife, certainly her condition got worse through all the stress.”
“You’re talking about a physician who does what a physician does, and you suddenly turn it into a criminal issue. That shouldn’t happen to anybody else. Any way you cut it, it’s just wrong,” Gokal continued.
Gokal also wants to draw attention to the fact that Harris County Public Health, like other public health agencies across the country, is “not using physicians anymore and they’re making decisions on their own without it.” according to Gokal. He claims that these agencies are making public health decisions without consulting experts such as doctors.
“This has changed in the last year, and it’s a very worrisome and dangerous trend,” Gokal added.
The public health department told Gokal and his attorney that “he picked the wrong people to help – too many of them had ‘Indian’ names, too many of them were Asian,” according to a press release.
Gokal’s attorney, Joe Ahmad, said, “It’s very clear that if he had vaccinated people named Anderson, Smith, and Jones he would have been called a hero and not have been fired, charged, vilified, and brought before a grand jury that thankfully refused to indict him.”
It’s unclear how much money the charges and case against Gokal will cost him, Ahmad explained in an interview, but they expect the impact to last for years.
Gokal said that the case had caused him a lot of stress and that he couldn’t devote his full attention to the patients because of it.
Additionally, Ahmad said that the case’s publicity has harmed Gokal’s reputation.
Gokal expressed his dissatisfaction by saying that he did everything he was supposed to do.