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According to allegations raised in a product liability lawsuit filed against Merck, a California woman not only developed shingles shortly after receiving a vaccine to prevent the condition, but side effects of the Zostavax vaccine left her with vestibular neuritis and hearing loss as well.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Lucy Pettaway in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 6, indicating that Merck sold the developed, manufactured and sold a shingles vaccine that was unreasonably dangerous, increasing the risk of more severe and persistent shingles outbreaks, and other auto-immune reactions.
Pettaway indicates that she was injected with the single-dose shingles vaccine Zostavax in June 2017, which has been commonly given to older adults as a preventative measure to avoid the development of shingles. However, due to an under-attenuated version of the live virus contained in the vaccine, it has been linked to a large number of complications and injuries after activating the dormant virus in some individuals.
Later the same month she was vaccinated, Pettaway indicates that she developed a severe rash, which was later diagnosed as shingles; the ailment the shot was supposed to prevent. She also began having hearing loss and was later diagnosed with vestibular neuritis, which is a condition that affects the nerves of the inner ear and can cause hearing damage, dizziness, balance problems, nausea, vomiting and vertigo.
“Even though Merck knew or should have known of the risks and reactions [with Zostavax], it still failed to provide warnings that accurately reflected the signs, symptoms, incident, scope, or severity of the risks associated with the product,” Pettaway alleges in the complaint. “Merck, as a manufacturer of pharmaceutical products, is held to the level of knowledge of an expert in the field and, further, Merck had knowledge ofthe dangerous risks and side effects of its product. Plaintiff did not have the same knowledge as Merck and no adequate warning was communicated to her physician(s) and/or healthcare providers.”
The case joins hundreds of similar Zostavax lawsuits over the single-shot vaccine, which has now been largely replaced by the newer Shingrix vaccine, which involves two doses and is widely viewed as a safer product.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints filed by Pettaway and other plaintiffs, 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 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.