The Doctor Who Got Fired For Using Left-over Vaccine*

The Georgia doctor looked at the clock ticking loudly on the wall in his office, with a staccato, steady beat. Twenty minutes past 5 p.m. He had six hours.

Now that a vial of Covid-19 vaccine had been opened for his last patient on this blustery February day, he had to find ten eligible people for its remaining doses before the valuable medicine—more precious than liquid gold, he’d been told—expired. In six hours.

Scrambling, the doctor made house calls and directed people to his office outside Savannah. Some were acquaintances; others strangers. A bed-ridden octogenarian woman. A mother with a special-needs child who used a ventilator. A man in his 80s with dementia.

After 10 p.m. and just minutes before the vaccine became unusable, the doctor, Faiz Muhammad gave the last dose to his wife who had asthma. A few times each day when she would wheeze, his wife used an inhaler to help her breathe.

Two weeks later, Muhammad was fired from his government job as a VA hospital physician and then charged with stealing the covid-vaccine vial from the vaccination site.

District Attorney Scott Harris alleged that Dr. Muhammad was guilty of a misdemeanor in taking the vial offsite. “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,” the D.A. thundered to the reporters at a press conference he’d called outside the department headquarters.

“The State will do everything in its power to make sure that anybody who violates health protocols will not go unpunished,” he finished as men with shoulder-mounted cameras and women with balled microphones, trailed cords across the gum-stained sidewalk.

One reporter held up a hand. “Mr. Harris, you’re describing the alleged theft as an act of retail shoplifting but couldn’t it be that the doctor used his medical judgment during a public health emergency?”

The D.A. shook his head imperiously and sorted in the fresh air. “No more questions,” he admonished, striding away as a gaggle of important-looking officials followed in his wake.


The D.A. was in his Range Rover, driving home from work, rain beating down the windshield when he finally thought about the reporter’s parting question. His name was Tom, he recalled from previous interviews, a tall, young man with straggly brown hair, too liberal-leaning for his own good. He’d noticed the colored socks he wore, peeping out from beneath his too-short, often-wrinkled Docker’s.

“Now consider, young man . . .” he wanted to lay a heavy hand on Tom’s shoulder and say to him. “I have here a man of color, a Paki accused of bypassing written orders on who to vaccinate and when. The public sees this man as a threat to every high-risk person out there who desperately needs a vaccine. I bring charges against this cold opportunist. The County sees me as a hero, young man, if you see my drift.”

Rainwater sluiced over the car’s hood and along the side windows. The windshield wipers slid cleanly back and forth across the polished glass.

“Yes, sir,” the D.A. thought. He was a man up for reelection next year, a leader of the proletariat, a champion of the masses.


Unbeknownst to the D.A.’s musings, at the other end of town, Tom was ringing the doorbell of the red-bricked house with white shutters belonging to one Louise Parks.

Mrs. Parks’ daughter led him to the old woman, who sat propped up against a mound of lace-edged ivory-colored pillows. She wore a long-sleeved flowery shirt that hung on her gaunt frame, her emaciated hands and wrists protruding from the sleeves of her cuffed, frayed sweater, limp against the coverlet.

Mrs. Parks’ daughter scrunched up her forehead as she recounted how her mother got ‘lucky’—the doctor had called people in his cellphone’s contact list to ask whether they had older relatives or neighbors needing to be immunized. “My colleague from the high school I teach at—his wife works the front desk at the VA hospital—called me. I could scarcely believe it! I’d been trying to get Mother a vaccine for weeks, but everywhere I was turned away.”

Mrs. Parks smiled at Tom, the bones of her skull clearly showing through her thin, fine skin as she said in a tremulous voice, “That good Indian doctor who came by and gave me the vaccine. I never did catch his name.”

* This is a work of fiction, based on real events—names, places, and dates have been changed.

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