To Waste or Not To Waste

Have you read this story in the NY Times? Let me get this straight: Dr. Gokal was left with 10 doses of covid vaccine in an open container that would expire within six hours at the conclusion of a vaccination event back in December. After offering the doses to the health workers, paramedics, and police who were present, calling up a public health official and a high-ranking colleague, he called individuals in his cell phone contact list, asking them if they had friends or relatives who needed a vaccine, then spent his evening going to the homes of virtual and actual strangers and having patients come to his home late at night so as not to waste any doses. When the last individual who had accepted a dose decided not to take it, and with minutes to spare before the dose expired, he inoculated his wife who is in her forties and suffers from pulmonary sarcoidosis, and then provided a full report of who got the extra doses the next morning. Several days later he was fired from his job, then publicly charged by the DA of stealing vaccines and giving them to friends and family, a collection of people that, according to them, contained a suspiciously overrepresented number of Indian-sounding names. And the state criminal court judge dismissed the case “emphatically rejecting this attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician.” So the case now awaits a grand jury. 

On the flip side, there are numerous instances of hospital administrators and other staff, not directly involved in clinical work, nor who fall into tier 1A or 1B, receiving the covid vaccine by virtue of their place of employment. Black and Latino neighborhood vaccination events nationwide have experienced a disproportionate percentage of their supply go to younger, healthier, white patients who may have had the benefit of better internet access, and/or more reliable transportation. And this is not to mention the instances of hospitals reserving doses for their wealthy donors who also do not fall into high risk categories. Then pile on top those cases of intentional vaccine spoilage. Simply put, we knew rollout would not go smoothly at first, and would be prone to ineffective distribution, and likely corruption. But where does the criminalization of a respected physician who is told under no uncertain terms to get all of the doses into arms, and then does so, come into play? It is difficult to imagine having done anything differently if put into the same situation. In fact I’d argue that any protocol or statement recommending throwing away doses of a lifesaving vaccine during a public health emergency, instead of making every attempt to use them, is the truly criminal behavior.

424340cookie-checkTo Waste or Not To Waste