Judge dismisses vaccine theft charge against Texas physician

A Harris County, Texas, judge on Jan. 25 dismissed a charge of theft by a public servant against Hasan Gokal, MD, a health department physician who was accused of stealing a COVID-19 vaccine vial from a vaccination site where he was working, the Houston Chronicle reports. 

County Court-At-Law Judge Franklin Bynum said the misdemeanor charge lacked probable cause, adding the prosecutor's affidavit was "riddled with sloppiness and errors," he wrote in his order, according to the Chronicle. 

"In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor's documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency," Mr. Bynum wrote.

District Attorney Kim Ogg charged Dr. Gokal with the misdemeanor Jan. 21, saying he took a COVID-19 vaccine vial containing nine doses from the Lindsay Lyons Park vaccination site in Humble, Texas, on Dec. 29.  

In response to Mr. Bynum's dismissal of the charge, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office told the news outlet prosecutors are still pursuing the case: "Judge Bynum's gratuitous observations call into question his fairness and impartiality; we anticipate presenting all the evidence in the matter to a grand jury." 

Paul Doyle, an attorney for Dr. Gokal, said the physician found an open vial, which would have expired within six hours, at the end of the work day Dec. 29, the Chronicle reports. Dr. Gokal first offered the vaccine to health workers and police on site, and called a health department supervisor to locate available patients.

After not finding anyone to administer the vaccine to, Dr. Gokal reached out to personal contacts, all of whom were either elderly or had underlying medical conditions and eligible vaccine recipients, Mr. Doyle said, adding that Dr. Gokal delivered the last dose to his chronically ill wife after not finding any others. The next day, Dr. Gokal entered all recipients into the state's database as required, his attorney said. He was fired from the health department Jan. 8. and plans to sue Harris County for wrongful termination. 


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