Zostavax Injection Caused Painful Shingles Outbreak, Lawsuit Claims

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A Kentucky woman indicates that she has been left with painful and incurable problems from a Zostavax shingles injection, alleging in a recently filed product liability lawsuit that the live virus contained in the vaccine has caused her to suffer recurring and more persistent shingle outbreaks.

In a complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on October 23, Barbara Stone indicates that Merck sold an unreasonably dangerous injection for prevention of shingles, which actually had an under-attenuated live virus that increases the risk of individuals developing the disease it was designed to prevent.

Stone received a single-dose Zostavax injection in October 2015, which is commonly recommended for older adults to prevent shingles outbreaks. However, shortly after receiving the injection, Stone developed a painful shingles outbreak, and indicates that she has been faced recurring bouts with shingles since then.

According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, the shingles injection contained an under-attenuated live virus that was not weakened enough, and reactivated the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox, and remains dormant in the nervous system for many years. Once injected, Stone indicates that the live virus may recombine into more virulant strains of shingles and other diseases.

“[Despite] the correlation between being administered the Zostavax vaccine and within a relatively short period of time developing an infection, leading to the development of shingles or varicella-zoster virus pneumonia, Merck failed to properly address and provide this information both to the patient and the medical providers prescribing the vaccine,” according to the complaint.

The case joins a growing number of similar Zostavax injection lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, which are currently 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 pretrial proceedings before Judge Bartle, 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 injection 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.

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