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Side effects of the Zostavax shingles vaccine caused a California woman to develop the very condition it was designed to prevent, according to a product liability lawsuit that alleges the live virus contained in the vaccine resulted in a painful, itchy and blistering rash, as well as other dermatological issues
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Bunny Hauser in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 14, indicating that Merck & Co. sold an unreasonably dangerous and ineffective shingles vaccine, despite safer alternative designs that were available and used in the newer shingles vaccine Shingrix.
Hauser indicates that she was inoculated with the single-dose Zostavax vaccine for the prevention of shingles, but instead ended up being diagnosed with the condition after going to a medical provider with an outbreak that developed sometime after she received the shot.
“As a direct and proximate result of Merck’s defective Zostavax vaccine, Plaintiff s symptoms have resulted in physical limitations not present prior to using Merck’s product,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff also experiences mental and emotional distress due to resulting physical limitations and seriousness of her condition.”
Zostavax was introduced in 2006, as the first vaccine for prevention of shingles among older adults. The injection involves use of a live virus, which the lawsuit alleges was not sufficiently weakened to avoid reactivation of the dormant virus in many consumers.
The case joins hundreds of similar Zostavax lawsuits filed by individuals who have developed severe and more persistent outbreaks after receiving the shingles vaccine. As a result of the problems, Zostavax has now been largely replaced by the newer Shingrix vaccine, which does not involve the use of a live virus and is widely viewed as a safer product.
In November 2018, a study published in The BMJ found that Shingrix is 85% more effective at preventing shingles than Zostavax, further accelerating the move away from Zostavax by many doctors.
“Shingrix was proven to be safe and effective to prevent shingles in over 90% of users in contrast to Zostavax’s effectiveness rates that were as low as 18% in certain age groups,” the lawsuit filed by Hauser states. “Shingrix was proven to stay effective in preventing shingles at least four years in contrast to Zostavax’s effectiveness that waned over a five year period.”
Hauser indicates that Merck had the knowledge to create a safer shingles vaccine, which could have been designed similar to Shingrix.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints filed by Hauser and other plaintiffs, the federal Zostavax 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 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. If Merck fails to reach Zostavax 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.