Health Care

Texas doctor cleared of coronavirus vaccine theft sues alleging discrimination

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A former Texas doctor, who was earlier this year cleared of accusations that he had stolen COVID-19 vaccines, has sued a public health department for discrimination on Tuesday, Houston Public Radio reported.

Hasan Gokal, a former physician at Harris County Public Health, was fired in January after he was accused of stealing 10 Moderna vaccine doses. A case against him was brought that same month, though it was later dismissed, according to Houston Public Media. He was also cleared of wrongdoing during a separate case in June.

The lawsuit also refutes the accusation, saying Gokal had distributed 10 leftover vaccine doses following an event in December after asking the onsite staff and police if they wanted to be inoculated. 

The onsite staff declined, and Gokal, in an effort to not let the vaccines go to waste, started to distribute them to others who were eligible, according to the lawsuit.

“Dr. Gokal gave the vaccine to those who were considered ‘at-risk’ and who he could immediately give it to before its expiration, which would have rendered the vaccine unusable. And he did so without race in mind, but solely in terms of at-risk individuals he could give the vaccine to as quickly as possible,” the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit claims that he was fired by Harris County Public Health in Texas for giving 10 leftover vaccine doses to too many people with “Indian” sounding names and alleges that he had faced discrimination previous to his firing.

“HPCH proceeded to fire Dr. Gokal anyways, articulating that Dr. Gokal did not ‘equitably’ distribute the vaccine and gave the vaccine to too many individuals with ‘Indian’ sounding names. At every turn, even prior to the vaccine roll-out, HCPH discriminated against Dr. Gokal for his South Asian race and Pakistani national origin which motivated HCPH’s decision to take adverse employment actions,” the lawsuit said.

Joe Ahmad, one of the attorneys representing Gokal, told The Hill that he believed this was about race, claiming that it would not have been an issue had Gokal been a white doctor distributing vaccine doses to white patients. 

Gokal is seeking $1 million in damages.  

The Hill has reached out to the county health department for comment.

Tags COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine Moderna Texas

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