Doctor accused of stealing vaccine didn't want doses to go to waste, attorney says

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A doctor who once worked for the Harris County Health Department is accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccines from a county facility and giving the doses to family and friends, but according to his attorneys, that's not how it happened.

They say Dr. Hasan Gokal was tasked with administering and overseeing vaccinations at Lyndsay Lyons Park in Humble on Dec. 29. Late in the day, someone who qualified for the vaccine arrived, so they opened a new vial of the Moderna vaccine, which contains up to 11 doses.

READ MORE: Harris County Public Health doctor stole 9 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, DA says

"The issue is they had to puncture another vial in order to administer this vaccine. So as they wrap up, they now have a vial that has a six-hour [shelf life] and Dr. Gokal is faced with the issue of what to do with it," said Paul Doyle, Gokal's attorney.

According to court records, Gokal "took the vaccine off-site and vaccinated his family and friends."

His attorney, however, said that's not true and claim the doctor's goal was to not waste any doses of the vaccine. Doyle said Gokal was acquainted with or had acquaintances who knew at least six of the vaccine recipients.

He was initially asking people at the site who work in health care and law enforcement if they wanted a dose of the vaccine.

"He then starts to go on his phone to find people who may have relatives that qualify for this vaccination," said Doyle.

Ultimately, Gokal's attorney said he ended up providing doses to a number of elderly individuals and his wife, whom he said is considered to be high-risk.

"So what Dr. Gokal is doing is trying to find people who qualify with the goal of not wasting and throwing away this vaccine," said Doyle.

However, if there are leftover doses, court records show that Harris County Public Health has a policy for that.

"Any vials that had been punctured and still contained viable doses of the vaccine were supposed to be brought back to the main office," read the records.

In addition, court records state, "Harris County Public Health has a procedure in place to make sure that leftover doses at the end of each shift are administered to at-risk front line workers." Gokal's attorney said when he was confronted about taking the vial, Gokal asked what he should have done.

"They said, 'You should have thrown it away. This could cost us our ability to get future vaccines,'" said Doyle.

The concern of mishandled vaccines was raised by a Harris County Public Health employee who, according to court records, "spoke of a previous situation in which H1N1 vaccine was mishandled in years past and that the department lost funding at that time due to the mishandling."

Harris County Public Health said it cannot discuss the ongoing case and has since fired Gokal. Eyewitness News is waiting to hear from HCPH on their policies and the previous H1N1 incident.

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