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After receiving a Zostavax injection a Texas woman indicates that she developed a number of serious health problems due to side effects of the shingles vaccine, including the very injury the injection was designed to prevent.
Vijayalakshmi Murugiah and her husband, Karian Ragavan, filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 21, indicating that Merck & Co. sold an unreasonably dangerous vaccine injection for prevention of shingles, which contained a version of the live virus that under-attenuated, or not sufficiently weakened to prevent reactivation of the dorman virus in some older adults.
According to the lawsuit, Murugiah received a Zostavax injection for the prevention of shingles in December 2016. After receiving the vaccine, she indicates she developed sharp, tingling and burning pain on her left shoulder, Murugiah was eventually diagnosed with shingles, verdigo and post herpetic polyneuropathy, which was allegedly caused by the shingles vaccine.
Zostavax was introduced in 2006, involving a live virus that was designed to vaccinate older adults against the development of shingles. However, the vaccine injection has been linked to reports of individuals developing severe and more persistent shingles outbreaks, as well as other infections and auto-immune disorders, shortly after exposure to Zostavax.
The case joins hundreds of similar Zostavax lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide, raising claims for failure to warn and design defect, since safer alternative designs were available. Within a few years after the shingles vaccine was introduced, Zostavax was largely replaced by the newer Shingrix vaccine, which does not involve the use of a live virus and is widely viewed as a safer product.
“The safety, effectiveness, and the simple superiority of the design of Shingrix over Zostavax allowed the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to make an unprecedented decision to recommend Shingrix over Zostavax to the general public after only a few days of Shingrix being approved by the FDA,” the lawsuit states. “Merck possessed, or should have possessed, the knowledge to create a Shingles vaccine similarly designed as Shingrix.”
In November 2018, a study published in The BMJ found that Shingrix is 85% more effective at preventing shingles than Zostavax, further accelerating the move away from Zostavax by many doctors.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints filed by Murugiah and other plaintiffs, the federal Zostavax 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 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.