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Zostavax Vaccine Led To Scalp Shingles Outbreak Requiring Medical Care, Lawsuit Alleges

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Merck & Co. faces a product liability lawsuit over a scalp shingles outbreak that was allegedly caused by side effects of the Zostavax vaccine, which was supposed to prevent the development of shingles, but has actually been linked to more severe and persistent outbreaks for some individuals.

The complaint (PDF) was filed earlier this month by Janice Peyton and her husband, James, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the administered vaccine for adults was unreasonably dangerous and defective.

Janice Peyton indicates that she received a Zostavax vaccine injection on September 25, 2016, which was recommended as part of her routine health maintenance for the prevention of shingles. However, the lawsuit indicates that instead of preventing shingles, the injection caused her to suffer a painful shingles outbreak on her scalp.

“Shortly after receiving Defendants’ Zostavax vaccine, Plaintiff suffered a painful rash on her scalp and was diagnosed with shingles,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff continued to suffer from pain and/or burning sensations in her scalp following the outbreak requiring additional care and treatment.”

Zostavax was introduced in May 2006, as a single dose vaccine for prevention of shingles among individuals over the age of 50. It is a more potent version of the Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax, which contains the live varicella zoster virus. However, an alarming number of problems have been reported, where users experienced longer and more painful shingles outbreaks and other infections, which were allegedly caused by use of an “under-attenuated” version of the virus that was not sufficiently weakened to avoid reactivating the dormant virus in some users.

Peyton presents claims of negligence, design and manufacturing, failure to warn, breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and her husband presents a claim of loss of consortium. The couple seeks both punitive and compensatory damages.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in Zostavax vaccine lawsuits 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, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings as part of a federal MDL, or multi-district litigation.

As vaccine 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.

While all cases filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized before Judge Bartle, 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.

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