Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Claims Veteran Wrongly Given Zostavax Vaccine, Causing Fatal Case Of Chickenpox

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According to allegations raised in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government, a chickenpox outbreak caused by the Zostavax vaccine resulted in the wrongful death of an Army veteran, who allegedly never should have received the shingles vaccine. 

The family of Everett Teal filed a complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on February 13, presenting claims for negligent medical treatment provided by a doctor at the Southern Nevada VA Health Care System, Dr. Stephen Bilmyer

According to the wrongful death lawsuit, Dr. Bilmyer recommended Teal receive the Zostavax vaccine in August 2015, which is designed to prevent the development of shingles among older adults. However, Teal had previously been diagnosed with chronic lymphoid leukemia, had a prior history of anemia in neoplastic disease, and was using a mometasone furoate inhaler twice a day.

All of those factors meant that his immune system was weakened, which is a contraindication for the vaccine, according to the family. Although doctors are not supposed to give the live-virus shingles vaccine to individuals with a weakened immune system, the lawsuit indicates Teal was inoculated anyway.

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, containing the live varicella zoster virus.

Although the manufacturer has indicated that the vaccine is safe for individuals with healthy immune systems, side effects of Zostavax have been linked to reports of causing users to experience longer and more painful shingles outbreaks, as well as other infections associated with the live virus. It has also been linked to other auto-immune diseases, including meningitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), traverse myelitis (TM), Bells palsy or facial paralysis, hemorrhagic stroke and other nerve problems.

One week after Teal was given the vaccine, he developed chickenpox, which failed to go away and persisted until his death on March 23, 2016.

“As a result of all of Defendant’s breaches of the standard of care, Everett improperly received the Zoster Vaccine which led to Everett’s illness and ultimately his death,” the lawsuit, filed by his wife Jeannette Teal, on behalf of herself, Teal, and their son, Russell, states. “The acts and omissions on the part of the VA physicians, agents and/or employees amounted to negligence and such negligence was a proximate cause of Everett’s death. Said physicians, agents and/or employees were at all times material hereto acting within the courts and scope of their employment with Defendant.”

Zostavax Litigation

Teal’s medical malpractice lawsuit comes as a growing number of Zostavax vaccine lawsuits are being filed against the manufacturer, alleging that inadequate warnings were provided about the risk that an “under-attenuated” live virus may result in severe and life-threatening complications.

Those product liability cases seek damages from Merck & Co., the manufacturer of Zostavax, and are centralized in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits filed by otherwise health individuals nationwide, 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.

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