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According to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability complaint, side effects of the Zostavax shingles vaccine caused a Louisiana man to suffer severe vision problems and a condition that resulted in painful eyelid inflammation and dry eyes, known as belpharitis.
The Zostavax complaint (PDF) was filed by Gary Robbins in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 30, indicating that the Merck & Co. shingle vaccine marketed for use among older adults was unreasonably dangerous.
Zostavax was introduced by Merck in May 2006, as a single dose vaccine the prevention of shingles among individuals over the age of 50. 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 Robbins 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 virus, reactivated by Zostavax, manifests in a number of ways, the lawsuits indicates. In Robbins’ case, he was inoculated with the vaccine in September 2013 and almost immediately began experiencing side effects.
“Shortly after receiving Defendants’ Zostavax vaccine, Plaintiff suffered vision issues including but not limited to blurry vision, floaters and black swirls in his vision,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff was diagnosed with posterior vitreous detachment of the left eye and partial retinal detachment of the right eye. He was additionally diagnosed with blepharitis in both eyes.”
Blepharitis causes inflammation in the eyelids, loss of eye lashes and dry eyes due to lower tear production.
Merck & Co. currently faces more than 384 product liability claims, each involving similar allegations that side effects of the Zostavax caused individuals to develop more severe and persistent shingles outbreaks, as well as other auto-immune disorders associated with the use of an “under-attenuated” live virus contained in the 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 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.