Texas doctor accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccine to give to friends and family, DA says

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas -- A doctor working for Harris County Public Health in Texas is accused of stealing a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Harris County District Attorney's Office announced.

According to a news release issued on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Hasan Gokal is accused of stealing the vial that contained nine doses while working at the county vaccination site at Lyndsay Lyons Park in Humble on Dec. 29.

MORE: Experts dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccine
EMBED More News Videos

The COVID-19 vaccine is the key to getting out of the pandemic, but experts worry that false information and rumors will keep people from getting the shot. We spoke with experts to dispel the myths and provide the most up-to-date information when it comes to vaccines.

A week later, Gokal told a fellow Harris County Public Health employee, who then reported him to supervisors. Mishandling a vaccine can result in a loss of government funding to the county, according to Harris County Public Health officials, who first investigated the matter resulting in Gokal getting fired.

"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," said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. "What he did was illegal and he'll be held accountable under the law."

Gokal is being prosecuted by the Public Corruption Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. He's being charged with theft by a public servant. The Class A Misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

ABC7's sister station KTRK reached out to Harris County Public Health for comment. A spokesperson issued the following statement:

"I can confirm all the details in the news release sent out by the DA's office are accurate. Harris County Public Health took immediate action upon learning of improper handling of vaccines, to include alerting authorities. However, given that this is an ongoing investigation, we have to refer you back to the DA's office for any comment or interviews."

Meanwhile, Gokal's attorney, Paul Doyle, sent the following statement:

"Dr. Gokal is a dedicated public servant who ensured that COVID-19 vaccine dosages that would have otherwise expired went into the arms of people who met the criteria for receiving it. Harris County would have preferred Dr. Gokal let the vaccines go to waste and are attempting to disparage this man's reputation in the process to support this policy. We look forward to our day in court to right this wrong."

What are the side effects of the COVID vaccine? See our FAQ
EMBED More News Videos

We spoke with an infectious disease specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center to answer some frequently asked questions related to the vaccine.

Gokal had been one of the faces of Harris County Public Health during the pandemic, featured in videos and on townhall panels.

According to online records, he is in good standing with the Texas Medical Board and has practiced medicine for 21 years, including nine years in Texas.

"If the accusation against Dr. Gokal is true, he has committed a significant breach of the public's trust in the medical profession," said Woods Nash, an assistant professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the University of Houston College of Medicine. "We trust doctors and other health care professionals to put the interest of their patients, and the public, ahead of their own goals and desires. That expectation of altruism is not altered by the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic only increases the urgency of setting aside self-interests that conflict with the public good."

Gokal has not been arrested and a court hearing has not been set.

MORE: Could proof of vaccination become required? Answering legal questions about the COVID-19 shot
EMBED More News Videos

Dan Abrams goes over legal questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.