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According to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability lawsuit, complications from the Zostavax shingles vaccine caused a Kentucky woman to develop abnormal lung nodules and atypical pneumonia just one day after inoculation.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Lenora Alexander and her husband, Robert, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 14, naming Merck & Co., the manufacturer of Zostavax, as the defendant.
Alexander was inoculated with Zostavax on May 9, 2016, receiving the vaccine for prevention of shingles as an adult. However, just one day later she was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and abnormal nodules in her lungs. Doctors determined that she was suffering from atypical pneumonia caused by an unspecified organism.
The shingles vaccine lawsuit alleges that the illness was likely caused by Zostavax, due to an “under-attenuated” version of the live herpes zoster virus.
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 Alexander 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 not sufficiently weakened.
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 or other inffections, according to the lawsuit.
“A risk of using a live virus vaccine is that it is not weakened enough or ‘under-attenuated’,” the lawsuit states. “Under-attenuated live VZV has been shown to reactivate. Once injected, attenuated live virus has been shown to recombine into more virulent strains causing disease.”
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.