Zostavax Side Effects Resulted in Long, Painful Shingles Outbreak, Lawsuit Claims

According to allegations raised in a recent product liability lawsuit filed against Merck, side effects of the Zostavax vaccine caused a Wisconsin woman to suffer a long and painful shingles outbreak, which the drug was supposed to prevent. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Jane Boda in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on May 1, alleging that the shingles vaccine not only failed to work as it was supposed, but actually increases the risk of a more virulent strain of the viral infection.

Boda indicates that she was inoculated with a Zostavax vaccine in November 2011, for the prevention of shingles, also known as herpes zoster. In June 2016, she was treated for a blistering vesicular eruption, which was identified as a case of shingles. In July 2017, she was diagnosed and treated for severe and unrelenting shingles outbreaks. At that time, doctors diagnosed her with post-herpetic neuralgia; a secondary side effect of herpes zoster infection which causes chronic nerve pain and nerve damage.

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Side effects of the shingles vaccine Zostavax may result in the development of a painful and persistent strain of shingles

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“The Zostavax vaccine did not function as intended, and Jane Boda subsequently suffered from a long series of resilient herpes zoster outbreaks, which inevitably resulted in neurological interference and painful post-herpetic neuralgia that has been resistant to all therapies,” the lawsuit states.

Shingles is caused by the same virus, varicella zoster, which causes chickenpox. Later in life, the virus can be reactivated and cause shingles, which is a painful rash that usually appears as a stripe of blisters on the body. Pain can continue even after the rash is gone, which is known as postherpetic neuralgia.

To prevent shingles, adults can get a chickenpox or shingles vaccine. Zostavax was approved 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.

The complaint indicates that by September 2015, there were already 1,111 reports of severe Zostavax problems identified among adverse event reports, including 36 deaths. Many of the reports were linked to viral infections of the central nervous system, resulting in side effects such as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, peripheral neuropathy, myalgia, arthralgia, rashes, severe cutaneous disease, herpes keratis that caused vision loss, pneumonia, brain inflammation, facial paralysis and death.

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

Boda’s 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.

According to allegations raised in dozens of product liability lawsuits over the shingles vaccine, 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.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, a motion was filed last month with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to centralize and consolidate all Zostavax cases over the shingles vaccine before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.


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