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According to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability lawsuit, side effects of the Zostavax vaccine caused the development of Bell’s Palsy and Transverse Myelitis/Guillain Barre Syndrome, which have left her disabled and unable to walk.
The complaint (PDF) was filed earlier this month by Elaine Vining in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, naming the shingles vaccine manufacturer Merck & Co. as the defendant.
According to the lawsuit, Vining received a Zostavax vaccine injection in July 2013 for the prevention of shingles. However, in February 2015 she underwent a lumbar puncture, and an examination of her spinal fluid confirmed she had a shingles infection. She was also diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, Transverse Myelitis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. As a result of the injury allegedly caused by Zostavax, Vining indicates that she has lost the ability to walk.
Bell’s palsy involves a sudden paralysis of facial muscles, which typically causes about half of the face appear to droop. The condition is usually temporary, but involves treatment with powerful corticosteroids, which carry their own side effects.
Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of a section of the spinal chord which can result in damage to nerve cells, interrupting nervous system signals sent through the body. This can result in pain, paralysis, muscle weakness, bowel and bladder dysfunction and sensory problems.
“The patient information sheet, as well as the label and prescribing information for Zostavax at all times relevant hereto, did not adequately, if at all, address the risk of viral infection or possible diseases of the nervous system,” the lawsuit states. “This is despite the fact that Varivax, a less potent vaccine, has added several neurological diseases and symptoms as adverse reactions to the Varivax vaccine.”
Zostavax was introduced in May 2006, as a single dose vaccine for prevention of shingles among individuals over the age of 50, and amid aggressive marketing it quickly grew to become a part of standard recommended care for nearly all older Americans. However, an alarming number of problems from the Zostavax vaccine have been reported where users developed a shingles outbreak or suffered other auto-immune disorders caused by the use of live-virus that was not sufficiently weakened.
It is a stronger version of another Merck chickenpox vaccine, Varivax. However, Vining’s lawsuit notes that Zostavax does not carry the same warnings as Varivax.
Vining’s complaint joins hundreds of other Zostavax injury lawsuits now being pursued nationwide. Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, the federal 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 the federal MDL, or multi-district litigation.
As 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. 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.