Convicted pharmacist struck off over illegal vaccine supply

A former Sydney proprietor has been struck off the register after she was jailed for supplying thousands of Gardasil 9 vaccines without the proper authority

A NSW tribunal has cancelled the pharmacist registration of Kathy Gong, finding her guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct on Monday.

Ms Gong made headlines in 2018 after pleading guilty in Downing Centre Local Court, Sydney, to three counts of prohibition on wholesale supply of certain substances for therapeutic use.

At the time of the conduct, she was the sole proprietor of the Harmony Pharmacy and Wellness Clinic, located in Mosman on Sydney’s north shore.

Between April and June 2018, Ms Gong was found to have supplied 2,432 units of Gardasil 9 to a male associate who then exported the substance under a false declaration to Hong Kong. Ms Gong did not hold a wholesaler’s licence or authority to supply Gardasil by wholesale.

She received more than $500,000 for those supplies from the associate, which she invoiced under the description ‘Anthogenol’, a health supplement that does not require a wholesale licence to export. She said her profit was in the order of $30,000 or $35,000.

Following an investigation, on 7 August 2018 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) executed a search warrant at the Pharmacy. At the same time Ms Gong was served with a notice under s 35 of the Poisons Act requiring her to provide information in relation to her supplies of Gardasil 9 in the preceding 12 months.

In response to that notice Ms Gong falsely provided a schedule stating that the more than 2,400 units of Gardasil 9 were supplied on ‘Prescription’.

On 21 November 2018 Ms Gong pleaded guilty to the offences. She was initially sentenced to an aggregate term of eight months’ imprisonment and served six days in custody.

On appeal, the District Court upheld the duration of the sentence but held that the remainder was to be served by way of an intensive correction order.

In a decision handed down on Monday, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal agreed with the HCCC – along with the Magistrate who originally convicted Ms Gong and the District Court Judge on appeal of sentence – that, based on the evidence, she undertook the sale of the Gardasil for financial gain.

She had previously claimed to the Pharmacy Council and the Court that she had entered into the transactions for altruistic reasons, for the benefit of women in Hong Kong.

Gardasil 9 is a vaccine given to individuals aged 9-45 to help protect against diseases caused by some types of human papillomavirus (HPV). At around the time of the conduct, there was a publicised shortage of the vaccine in Hong Kong.

However the tribunal concluded “there can be no doubt on the evidence that the respondent undertook the sale of the Gardasil for financial gain”.

It is believed the sale of such a large number of doses of Gardasil 9 may have impacted the supply of the vaccine in Australia.

Ms Gong’s registration was suspended on 22 October 2018. She sold her pharmacy on 31 January 2019 and her interest in another Mosman pharmacy on 31 December 2018.

While Ms Gong did not attend the November tribunal hearing, she admitted to the HCCC’s two complaints in her affidavit. The first related to her conviction in November 2018. The second complaint alleged that she failed to give the Pharmacy Board of Australia written notice of the conviction within seven days, as required by legislation.

She was found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct by the tribunal, which ordered her registration as a pharmacist cancelled with a non-review period of two years.

Ms Gong is also prohibited from providing pharmaceutical services. She was ordered to pay costs to the HCCC.

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