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Merck faces a product liability lawsuit brought on behalf of more than 30 plaintiffs who allege that side effects of the Zostavax shingles vaccine resulted in the development of severe and persistent shingles outbreaks and other complications.
The complaint (PDF) was originally filed in the Florida state court, before it was removed to the federal court system last week, involving claims for various Florida residents who all indicate they experienced painful and serious injuries after receiving the Zostavax vaccine for prevention of shingles.
Zostavax was introduced by Merck in May 2016, as a single dose vaccine designed to provide long-term protection against zoster infections like shingles. It is a more potent version of the Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax. However, soon after it was introduced, reports emerged involving problems with users developing more severe shingles outbreaks and other infections, due to the “under-attenuated” live virus contained in the vaccine.
Plaintiffs allege that Merck was aware that the Zostavax vaccine may cause shingles problems within a relatively short period of time after the injection, yet failed to provide adequate warnings for consumers and the medical community.
“The risk of inducing shingles, the very condition Zostavax was intended to prevent, was a risk that was not obvious to a consumer of the vaccine, such as plaintiffs, or a prescriber or administrator of the vaccine following the indications of the label, prescribing instructions or instructions for use,” according to the complaint. “When plaintiffs were each vaccinated with Zostavax at the doctors’ offices and pharmacies, the Zostavax vaccine lacked adequate and conspicuous warning that the live vaccine could re-activate a serious strain of the herpes zoster virus.”
The case will join a growing number of similar Zostavax shingles lawsuits currently pending in the federal court system, which have been centralized 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 brought in U.S. District Courts nationwide, all Zostavax shingles cases are consolidated for pretrial proceedings, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial schedules and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and courts.
As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, 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. However, if Merck fails to negotiate Zostavax shingles settlements for individuals who have been left with problems, or otherwise resolve the litigation, each individual case may eventually be remanded back to the federal district court where it originated for a separate trial date in the future.