An E.R. doctor supervising a vaccine-distribution site in the Houston area is left with an opened vial of Moderna vaccine doses at the end of the day. It’s 6.30 p.m. The doses will expire within six hours. So, the doctor offers the vaccine to health-care workers and police at the site. They don’t want it, or they’ve already gotten it. He asks the county health department supervisor if there are any patients waiting to take the doses; there do not seem to be. It’s then that he looks through his own contacts to find elderly people or those with medical conditions, and gives the vaccine to them. The doctor administers the last dose to his chronically ill wife after 11 p.m. As required, he enters all the names of the recipients into the state’s database the following day.
This is what Dr. Hasan Gokal says happened on December 29. On January 8, Gokal was fired by Harris County Public Health officials, who claimed he violated policy by stealing doses from a vaccination site. The Harris County district attorney charged Gokal with one count theft by a public servant. A judge dismissed the case for a lack of probable cause, but the district attorney says he will take it to a grand jury.
The Houston Chronicle story portrays Gokal as a hero, but other local pieces are a bit more critical. The DA claims six of the vaccine recipients were Gokal’s friends, and that he was only caught after he “told a fellow Harris County Public Health employee, who then reported him to supervisors.”
Who cares, really? It’s always prudent to wait for the evidence, but even if the charges are all true, as long as Gokal didn’t deny a patient a dose and made a good-faith effort to find patients, he did the right thing. Surely having Gokal’s wife and friends receiving Moderna vaccines is preferable to allowing those doses to expire? That seems to be the case the majority of the time. We’ve created a system that leaves thousands of doses wasted across the country, sometimes because of ineptitude, but mostly, it seems, because rigid state mandates fixated on “fairness” that incentivize waste. We don’t even know how many doses have been wasted, as one doctor told NBC News that “hospitals that do report this get pilloried in the press for wasting vaccines. . . . So, many hospitals are not reporting and this is happening across the country.”
Hospitals and health-care providers would rather throw out doses than lose funding or be punished by states. New York governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to levy $1 million fines and strip doctors and facilities of medical licenses for any COVID-vaccine fraud. The goal, one assumes, is to inoculate the population, not hinder medical professionals from using their discretion and maximizing every shipment. There is always going to be some level of fraud, but the goal should be to get as many doses out as quickly as possible.