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Zostavax Injection Led To Persistent Shingles Diagnosis, Lawsuit Claims

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After receiving the Zostavax vaccine to prevent shingles, a Tennessee man indicates the injection caused him to develop a more severe and persistent case of the viral infection, according to a recently filed product liability lawsuit. 

The complaint (PDF) was brought by Bernie Thomas in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 22, indicating that Merck & Co. manufactured and sold a defective and dangerous vaccine, which actually increases the risk of the condition it is designed to protect against.

Thomas was inoculated with the herpes zoster, or shingles, vaccine in September 2017. However, shortly after receiving the Zostavax injection, he developed a persistent strain of shingles; leaving him with serious, progressive and incurable injuries, as well as significant pain and other complications, according to the lawsuit.

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 in lawsuits filed by Thomas and other plaintiffs nationwide, Merck failed to warn that the Zostavax injection 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”.

“A risk of using a live virus vaccine is that it is not weakened enough or ‘under attenuated,,” the lawsuit states. “Under-attenuated live virus creates an increased risk of developing the disease the vaccine was to prevent.”

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.

The case joins hundreds of other Zostavax injection lawsuits being pursued by individuals nationwide, each alleging that Merck knew its vaccine may cause viral infections, yet failed to provide adequate warnings for users or the medical community.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the 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 management, 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.

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