Friday, February 12, 2021

Coronavirus Update 2-12-2021: Doctor wrongly fired for doing the right thing with expiring COVID vaccine dose

"Ten doses of the Covid-19 vaccine would expire within hours, so a Houston doctor gave it to people with medical conditions, including his wife." So reads the lede in this New York Times story

What happened next? He was fired.

The details, again from the New York Times.
Now that a vial of Covid-19 vaccine had been opened on this late December night, he had to find 10 eligible people for its remaining doses before the precious medicine expired. In six hours.

Scrambling, the doctor made house calls and directed people to his home outside Houston. Some were acquaintances; others, strangers. A bed-bound nonagenarian. A woman in her 80s with dementia. A mother with a child who uses a ventilator.

After midnight, and with just minutes before the vaccine became unusable, the doctor, Hasan Gokal, gave the last dose to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that leaves her short of breath.

For his actions, Dr. Gokal was fired from his government job and then charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses worth a total of $135.

Here's the kicker. Before administering those 10 doses that lead to his termination and indictment, he called a county public health official in charge of operations to report his plan. The response? "Okay." They signed off on his plan, told him it was okay to do, and then fired him, had him indicated, and potentially ruined his life. All because he was trying to do the right thing. 

HR advised him that was fired for violating protocol by not returning the unused vaccines or throwing them away. The doctor, of Indian descent, was also challenged for choosing too many people with Indian surnames to receive the doses.

What should have happened with Dr. Gokal's employment? I agree 100% with my friend Suzanne Lucas, who wrote, "This is a time when HR should have stepped in and pointed out that he did the absolute best he could in this situation.… Let’s remember the human part of Human Resources. Yes, vaccines should go to high-risk people first. But, we shouldn’t waste any vaccines if we can possibly help it."

Dr. Gokal was not only trying to make the best of the situation by doing what he believed was the absolute right thing, he did it after his boss told him it was "okay." This termination should never have happened, and if I'm legal counsel for Harris County, Texas, I am recommending a quick settlement that includes rehiring the doctor as soon as possible. Tough times call for tough choices. This doctor did the best he could in a bad situation, and shouldn't be punished for his exercise of professional judgment.