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Zostavax Zoster Vaccine Cause Postherpetic Neuralgia Injury, Lawsuit Alleges

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Although the herpes zoster vaccine is supposed to help older individuals avoid shingles, a Florida woman has filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, alleging that an insufficiently weakened version of the live virus contained in the virus actually caused her to develop shingles-related complications that affected her nerves and skin, known as postherpetic neuralgia. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Margaret Bratina in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on February 5, naming Merk & Co., Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp. (MSD) and McKesson Corp. as the defendants.

Bratina indicates that she was inoculated with the Zostavax vaccine in May 2014, which was recommended as part of her routine health regimen to provide her with long-term protection from shingles and zoster-related injuries. However, instead, she developed shingles, as well as postherpetic neuralgia; a shingles-related complication that causes pain to continue even after a shingles outbreak has cleared up. About one out of every five people who have shingles also have postherpetic neuralgia, which can last for months or even longer.

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.

Bratina’s case joins a growing number of Zostavax vaccine lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the live zoster virus contained in the injection was “under-attenuated,” increasing the risk that dormant versions of the virus in the body may be reactivated, leading to more severe and persistent shingles outbreaks and other complications.

“Merck and MSD had the duty to warn the Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s healthcare providers of the ineffective nature of the vaccine and the heightened the risk of suffering the injuries, diseases, and maladies associated with use of the Zostavax vaccine, and that Plaintiff suffered as a result as alleged,” Bratina’s lawsuit states. “Merck and MSD knew or believed at the time they made false representations about the Zostavax vaccine that the representations were false.”

In addition to increasing the risk of shingles, plaintiffs indicate that side effects of the Zostavax zoster vaccine may result in 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.

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.

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