No indictment for doctor accused of COVID-19 vaccine theft

HOUSTON (AP) — A grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a former Houston-area health department doctor who was accused of stealing nine doses of coronavirus vaccine from a damaged vial and administering them to family and friends.

Prosecutors had alleged that Hasan Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, stole a vial of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine while working at a vaccination site at a suburban Houston park on Dec. 29.

But grand jurors in Harris County, where Houston is located, decided no criminal charges were warranted. The grand jury’s decision comes after a judge in January dismissed a theft charge prosecutors had filed against Gokal.

Paul Doyle, Gokal’s attorney, said in statement that the grand jury’s decision ends a “prolonged, unwarranted attempt by District Attorney Kim Ogg and her office to disparage Dr. Gokal’s good name.”

“No doctor should ever feel forced to choose between saving lives and keeping their job,” Doyle said.

Doyle said hundreds of medical professionals and others had written letters, sent emails and made phone calls in support of Gokal’s actions.

“We respect the decision of the grand jury in this and every case. Evidence, not public opinion, is the guiding principle of our work,” the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

In January, prosecutors filed a misdemeanor theft charge against Gokal, who was fired after the health department conducted an internal investigation.

Doyle said Gokal did nothing wrong and was only trying to ensure that vaccine from a punctured vial was not wasted.

A judge later dismissed the theft charge, ruling there was no probable cause in the case. Harris County Court-At-Law Judge Franklin Bynum criticized prosecutors, saying their probable cause complaint was “riddled with sloppiness and errors.”

After the dismissal, prosecutors presented the case to the grand jury.

In March, the Texas Medical Board dismissed an investigation against Gokal, saying he “appeared to have administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted.”

The board also found there were no protocols for Gokal to follow and he relied on state guidance to not waste the vaccine.

In Wisconsin, a former pharmacist who purposefully ruined more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine was sentenced to three years in prison on June 8.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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