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Texas doctor stole coronavirus vaccine, gave it to his family and friends, authorities say

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 1/22/2021 Tom Steele, The Dallas Morning News
a person holding a bottle: A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia on Dec. 16, 2020. © TIM TAI/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia on Dec. 16, 2020.

DALLAS — A Harris County doctor has been fired and faces a criminal charge after authorities say he stole a vial of coronavirus vaccine and gave it to friends and relatives.

Hasan Kassim Gokal, 48, faces one misdemeanor count of theft by a public servant.

His attorney says Gokal was simply making sure that doses of the vaccine were used rather than allowed to expire.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Thursday that Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, stole a vial containing nine doses on Dec. 29 while working at a county vaccination site in Humble, about 15 miles northeast of Houston.

He later told a colleague, who reported him, Ogg said in a statement. Gokal was fired after an investigation by the health department, and the case was referred to prosecutors.

“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”

Ogg said Gokal ignored protocols intended to ensure that the vaccine is given to front-line workers and people at higher risk for COVID-19 complications instead of being wasted, adding that mishandling the vaccine can lead to the county’s government funding being cut.

Gokal’s lawyer, Paul Doyle, said in a written statement that his client is a dedicated public servant who is looking forward to his day in court.

Gokal “ensured that COVID-19 vaccine dosages that would have otherwise expired went into the arms of people who met the criteria for receiving it,” Doyle said. “Harris County would have preferred Dr. Gokal let the vaccines go to waste and are attempting to disparage this man’s reputation in the process to support this policy.”

If convicted, Gokal faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Gokal does not have any disciplinary history with the Texas Medical Board.

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