Shingles Lawsuit Filed Over Failure of Zostavax Vaccine

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A Colorado man indicates that he suffered a shingles outbreak on his face due to a failure of the Zostavax vaccine, which was supposed to prevent the condition, but actually caused a more severe and virulent strain of the virus to develop. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed this month by Wilbert Talmadge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, indicating that Merck & Co. failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks associated with their shingles vaccine.

Zostavax was introduced in May 2006, as a single dose vaccine for prevention of shingles among individuals over the age of 50. It is a more potent version of the Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax, which contains the live varicella zoster virus. However, the singles vaccine has been linked to reports of problems, where users experienced longer and more painful shingles outbreaks, as well as other infections, which were allegedly caused by use of an “under-attenuated” version of the virus that was not sufficiently weakened to avoid reactivating the dormant virus in some users.

Talmadge was inoculated with the Zostavax vaccine in August 2017, for the prevention of shingles (herpes zoster). However, the lawsuit notes that the vaccine failed to work, and he developed a burning and stinging rash on his face within a few days, which spread towards his left eye. He was diagnosed with shingles that same month.

“The patient information sheet, as well as the label and prescribing information for Zostavax at all times relevant hereto, did not adequately, if at all, address the risk of viral infection,” Talmadge’s lawsuit notes. “All that was addressed is the concern that a rash and itching might develop at the injection site. This is despite the fact that shingles was a noted occurrence during clinical trials of the vaccine.”

Merck & Co. currently faces nearly 400 shingles lawsuits over the Zostavax vaccine.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed nationwide, the litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings as part of a federal MDL, or multi-district litigation.

As vaccine lawyers continue to investigate and file additional claims on behalf of people who have experienced problems from Zostavax, the size of the litigation is expected to continue to grow over the coming months and years.

While all cases filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized before Judge Bartle, if Merck fails to reach Zostavax settlements or another resolution for the claims following bellwether trials, each individual lawsuit may eventually be remanded back to different U.S. District courts nationwide for separate trial dates in the future.

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