Preventing vaccines from going to waste is an act of heroism


Jernej Furman | Flickr

Raisa Binte Afiz

Race probably was the reason why Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired for breaking conduct and administering vaccines that would’ve otherwise have gone to waste.

Gokal was supervising a vaccination event on Dec. 29 in a suburban park in Houston, Texas. Just as the event neared its end, in came one vaccine candidate, forcing the site to open a brand-new vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Thus, the expiration clock on the 10 other doses in that vial begun ticking. Only six hours were left before those doses become useless.

Gokal found himself in a tough situation – should he follow protocol and let these vaccines go to waste or should he search for people who need to be vaccinated?

Immediately, Gokal proceeded to ask around 20 of the event’s workers if they would like to get vaccinated. Many were already vaccinated and others declined.

This led to Gokal requesting permission to deliver the remaining doses to eligible people from a Harris County public health official who was responsible for operations regarding the vaccination process. To this request, they approved.

As Gokal continued to call colleagues to see if they knew any eligible candidates, he was met with no luck. Eventually, he found himself rushing home with the remaining doses as he made calls to the community to bring those who needed to be vaccinated.

His plea was answered by two candidates, an elderly woman with cardiac issues and another with varied health complicacies.

As the time ticked down to the doses’ midnight deadline, Gokal’s delivery runs became an “Uber Vaccine” operation.

He drove to houses in his Sugar Lane community to deliver five other doses to caregivers and other senior individuals and then returned home with three other vaccine hopefuls waiting for their dosage.

This is when he was met by yet another issue.

The receiver of the last dose could not make it in, just as midnight rolled around. With only 15 minutes to go, the doctor turned to the only other person with him in those late hours for the last dose of the viable COVID-19 vaccine: his wife.

Due to a lung condition, his wife did qualify to receive the vaccine. Gokal had to choose between vaccinating his vulnerable wife or throwing the scarce vaccine dose down the toilet — and he understandably chose the former.

The next day, he submitted the paperwork for every individual he had vaccinated the previous night, as well updating his supervisor regarding his actions the previous night. Days later, he was called by his supervisors and the HR director, who fired him without a second question.

Baffled, Gokal questioned the grounds of his termination and he was met with the strange question of “equity” among the 10 individuals he had vaccinated days prior. As one of the officials put it, according to Gokal, too many of those emergency vaccinations were people of color.

Weeks after his termination, Gokal was woken by the media informing him that he is being charged for stealing a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, including the dose that was delivered during the scheduled event time.

Harris County is not just a random place in Texas but the most populous county in the state, with a population of over 4 million people, an overwhelming amount of which are white.

Understandably, the system will have a lot of influence due to that disproportionate breakdown.

The vaccines, which otherwise would have gone to waste due to there not being any willing candidates at the vaccination site, were delivered safely to eligible, vulnerable community members at a time of emergency.

Raising an issue about race is an extremely disturbing observation to make when the situation was so time sensitive.

Micro-aggressive behaviors can be seen from the Harris County Public Health Department, which refuses to be transparent regarding the predicament with Gokal, and the Harris County district attorney, who went out of her way to fabricate a story against a doctor who did his best to help his community at a vulnerable time like this.

Their treatment of Gokal becomes more iconic as the recent power outage in Texas caused almost 8,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine to force officials to scramble just like the doctor had to find eligible patients before the valuable vaccines expired.

Now, Gokal is still jobless, volunteering his time at a nonprofit health clinic offering services to uninsured individuals.

While the man’s efforts to help his people stays intact, his story has put a large crack in his reputation and the system that is in place to deal with vaccines.