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Vision Loss Lawsuit Filed Over Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Side Effects

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A Tennessee woman indicates that side effects of the Zostavax vaccine left her with vision loss and other complications, according to allegations raised in a product liability lawsuit filed against Merck for failing to warn about the risks associated with the widely administered vaccine for prevention of shingles among older adults.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Sandra Loiacano in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on March 18, indicating that the live virus contained in the Zostavax vaccine was “under-attenuated”, and not sufficiently weakened to avoid reactivating the dormant zoster virus in some users.

Loiacano indicates that she was administered a Zostavax vaccine in September 2016, as part of routine health maintenance for the prevention of shingles. As a result, she suffered severe visual impairment and vision loss, the lawsuit claims.

Merck introduced the Zostavax 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, or other complications associated with the development of a more virulent and persistent emergence of the virus.

“Since Zostavax’s introduction in 2006, vaccine adverse event reports (VAERs) appeared in significant numbers addressing various adverse effects, including, but not limited to, viral infection resulting in disease of the central nervous system, including acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and acute transverse myelitis,” the lawsuit states. “Other than postherpetic neuralgia, shingles can lead to other serious complications, such as scarring, bacterial superinfection, allodynia, cranial and motor neuron palsies, pneumonia, encephalitis, visual impairment, hearing loss, and death.”

Given common questions of fact and law raised in similar Zostavax vaccine lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, the case brought by Loiacano will be consolidated with other claims, which are 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 part of the coordinated proceedings, it is expected that a small group of representative cases will be set for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Merck fails to reach Zostavax settlements or another resolution for the claims in the future, each individual lawsuit may eventually be remanded back to the U.S. District courts where it was initially filed for a separate trial date.

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