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Zostavax Bell’s Palsy Lawsuit Filed Over Facial Paralysis From Shingles Vaccine

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Shortly after receiving a shingles vaccine, a West Virginia man indicates that he developed sudden facial paralysis from side effects of Zostavax, which was ultimately diagnosed as Bell’s Palsy. 

In a complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 3, Dennis Clark pursues damages against Merck for manufacturing and selling a vaccine that was defective, unsafe and inherently dangerous due to use of a live virus that was not weakened enough to avoid causing the shingles disease it was supposed to prevent.

Clark indicates that he was inoculated with the Zostavax vaccine in April 2015, which was part of his routine health care to help prevent the development of shingles (herpes zoster). However, he claims that Zostavax caused him to develop Bell’s Palsy, which may result from the shingles virus.

“Shortly after receiving Defendants’ Zostavax vaccine, Plaintiff suffered a sudden left facial droop and was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff continued to suffer from intermittent numbness and tingling in the left corner of the mouth and suffered from Bell’s Palsy a second time.”

Bell’s palsy involves a sudden paralysis of facial muscles, which typically causes about half of the face appear to droop. The condition is usually temporary, but requires treatment with powerful corticosteroids, which carry their own side effects.

Zostavax was introduced by Merck in May 2006, as a single dose vaccine the prevention of shingles among older individuals. It is a more potent version of the Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax, but it has been linked to problems where it actually causes users to experience longer and more painful shingles outbreaks, as well as other infections.

According to allegations raised the lawsuit filed by Clark and other plaintiffs nationwide, Merck failed to warn that the Zostavax vaccine may cause the shingles virus, rather than prevent it, indicating that the manufacturer knew or should have known that the live virus in the vaccine was “under-attenuated”.

The varicella zoster virus (VZV) in Zostavax was allegedly not weakened enough to prevent reactivation of the dormant virus in the body, according to the lawsuit. Instead of the body developing the proper immune response, the live virus may combine with the old virus in some users, resulting in a more virulent strain of shingles.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the Zostavax litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings before Judge Bartle, it is expected that a small group of representative cases will be selected for early “bellwether” trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation over the Zostavax vaccine side effects.

It is ultimately expected that several thousand Zostavax cases will be brought by individuals nationwide who experienced problems after receiving the shingles vaccine.

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