Side Effects of Zostavax Vaccine Resulted in Persistent Strain of Shingles, Lawsuit Alleges

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Merck & Co. faces a new product liability lawsuit over claims that side effects of the Zostavax vaccine, caused a Florida man to develop a persistent and more severe case of shingles a few weeks later.

The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on August 13, indicating that the Zostavax shingles vaccine not only failed to prevent the condition, but design defects actually increased his risk of developing a much more serious strain of the virus.

Fuller indicates that he was given Zostavax in March 2016, and subsequently developed a painful rash and blisters on his upper back and shoulders. He was diagnosed with shingles in April 2016, less than three weeks after receiving the vaccine.

“The vaccine did not prevent shingles, but rather caused Plaintiff Kip Fuller to contract a persistent strain of herpes zoster,” the lawsuit states. “Shortly after receiving Defendants’ Zostavax vaccine, Plaintiff Kip Fuller began to experience tingling and numbness, accompanied by burning, originating in his hands and radiating outward thereafter.”

Zostavax was introduced by Merck in May 2006, for the prevention of shingles among individuals ages 60 or older. It is a more potent version of the Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax, but problems with Zostavax have been linked to reports of longer and more painful shingles outbreaks.

According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, Merck used an under attenuated live strain of the varicella zoster virus (VZV) in Zostavax, which was not weakened enough to prevent reactivation of the virus. Instead of the body developing the proper immune response, the live virus combined with the old virus in some users, resulting in a more virulent strain of shingles.

Shingles itself can cause scarring, bacterial infections, encephalitis, hearing loss, vision problems and other complications.

This latest claim is one of a growing number of Zostavax vaccine lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide who suffered long-term shingles outbreaks and other side effects after being inoculated.

Last month, following oral arguments, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to establish a Zostavax multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the lawsuits will be centralized before Judge Harvey Bartle III.

Merck faces about 100 Zostavax lawsuits at the federal level, and at least 400 have also been filed in New Jersey state court. All of the lawsuits involve similar complaints indicating that the vaccine is defective and that Merck failed to adequately warn patients and the medical community of the potential risks of persistent shingles outbreaks.

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