What should be done with expiring doses of coronavirus vaccines has been hotly debated since inoculations began in December. For one Texas doctor, deciding to administer doses of vaccines that were about to expire resulted in him losing his job and being criminally charged, he told the New York Times in a story released Thursday.
Dr. Hasan Gokal outlined why he administered the vaccine, saying he had an ethical duty to ensure that all coronavirus vaccine doses don’t go to waste. But by doing so, it cost him his job.
Last week, the Texas Medical Association released a letter, which backed Gokal’s actions.
“Almost all physician practices that have received COVID-19 vaccine to administer are on occasion scrambling at the end of the day to immunize someone – whether they meet the priority criteria or not – to avoid wasting the vaccine in a punctured vial,” the organization said in a statement. “It is difficult to understand any justification for charging any well-intentioned physician in this situation with a criminal offense.”
The Texas Medical Association added, “They should be applauded, not penalized, for doing so.”
Gokal told the New York Times that at the end of a coronavirus vaccine distribution, they opened an entire vaccine vial for the last patient. Once the vial was punctured, the vaccine has to be administered within six hours. The vial contained 11 doses, but they only needed one to finish the vaccine distribution.
Gokal told the New York Times that he first offered the vaccine to staffers administering the vaccine, but those on hand refused or had already been vaccinated. He then took it upon himself to vaccinate those he knew who are considered at a higher risk. The last person he vaccinated was his wife, who has pulmonary sarcoidosis.
Gokal was charged with stealing the vaccine doses, but later had those charges dropped.
A Harris County, Texas, prosecutor accused Gokal of “mishandling” the vaccine.
“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,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement last month. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”
Pressing between making sure the vaccines go to the right people versus ensuring doses don’t go to waste has been an issue across the country. Health care workers in Oregon late last month administered coronavirus vaccines on a highway when they were stuck in a traffic jam, which would have caused the doses they were carrying to expire. In Seattle, a freezer meant to store coronavirus vaccines went out, prompting a hospital to issue a social media call for those wanting and able to get vaccinated in the middle of the night.
To read the full New York Times story, click here.