This D.A. Is Trying To Prosecute a Doctor for Vaccinating Unauthorized People Instead of Letting Supplies Expire
Kim Ogg ran for district attorney as a criminal justice reformer. Maybe she should think about what that entails.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg swept into office in 2016, promising important criminal justice reforms like prioritizing important crimes and easing up on pretrial detention and high bail in her Texas jurisdiction. Her campaign site advertised her as "Texas' most progressive District Attorney."
"We're going to have a system with fair bail; we're going to have a system that doesn't oppress the poor; we're going to have a system that goes after the rapists and the robbers," she said in her victory speech in 2016. She was reelected in 2020.
But right now, Ogg is hellbent on trying to prosecute a Houston doctor who vaccinated 10 people against COVID-19 rather than let doses go to waste. And even though a judge has already essentially laughed her out of the court, she's taking the case to a grand jury.
Hasan Gokal, a Pakistani immigrant, briefly became national news in January when media outlets reported he had been fired for "stealing" a vial of COVID-19 vaccine doses and giving it to friends and family.
"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 in January.
But that characterization of what happened is disputed, and Harris County Judge Franklin Bynum has already tossed the case out for lack of probable cause and rebuked Ogg's office for attempting to "criminalize a doctor's documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency."
It turned out what really happened with Gokal is the problem we've been seeing play out across the country—medical providers having to hustle to find people to inject before these vaccines expire.
The New York Times Wednesday detailed the timeline of Gokal's behavior, documenting not a thief looking to jump his wife and friends to the front of the line, but rather a desperate doctor who had six hours to use 10 doses of the Moderna vaccine before they expired.
It all happened on December 29, when according to Gokal's account to the Times, not enough people showed up for vaccinations at an event in the Houston suburb of Humble because it had not been well-publicized. A new vial had been opened toward the end of the event and only one person was injected. That left 10 potential vaccinations that could go to waste.
Instead of letting that happen, Gokal informed the Harris County health officials in charge of the event that he was going to find people to inject. County officials knew full well what he was doing.
In the end, Gokal found several elderly people and those in high-risk categories who weren't yet approved for vaccinations but most certainly would be soon. The last to be injected was Gokal's own wife, who was actually eligible for the vaccine because of a serious lung condition. He told the Times he gave her the last dose 15 minutes before the vaccine would have expired.
He says all of these vaccinations were fully documented and submitted to Harris County Public Health. He was not concealing what he was doing at all. He was simply trying to avoid vaccine waste.
Nevertheless, days later, he was fired. Here's what he says he was told:
The officials maintained that he had violated protocol and should have returned the remaining doses to the office or thrown them away, the doctor recalled. He also said that one of the officials startled him by questioning the lack of "equity" among those he had vaccinated.
"Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?" Dr. Gokal said he asked.
Exactly, he said he was told.
Two weeks later, Ogg announced that she was going to charge Gokal for theft. He says nobody from her office even contacted him before announcing the charges.
Since the incident, the Times notes, the Texas Medical Association and the Harris County Medical Society announced support for doctors who skip vaccination protocols to avoid the problem of doses going to waste.
Ogg's office is still bringing the case before a grand jury to see if it'll indict Gokal.
If what Gokal's claiming is true—that he was told doses should be allowed to expire rather than be injected—anybody who told him this and anybody who thinks this way needs to be ejected from any sort of position of authority in the vaccination process.
By all means, focus on those who are at the greatest risk of spread or those who would suffer the most or are most likely to die if they're infected. But no moral or ethical goal is served when any dose of a vaccine goes to waste. Nobody's version of "equity" should result in fewer people being vaccinated against a deadly disease out of a comically cruel concept of fairness.
As for Ogg, she still has a tweet up sharing an initial news report from January that characterizes Gokal's behavior as "stealing," despite all the information that has come out since then. It will be up to the grand jury, apparently, to reject this case.