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Zostavax Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Shingles-Related Congestive Heart Failure

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According to allegations raised in a wrongful death lawsuit filed this month against Merck, side effects of the Zostavax vaccine caused a North Dakota man to suffer shingles and congestive heart failure, resulting in his death. 

Rita Fred filed the complaint (PDF) on behalf of herself and her late husband, Craig Fred, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on February 7, indicating that Merck failed to provide adequate warnings that the shingles vaccine may cause reactivation of dormant varicella zoster virus (VZV).

Zostavax was introduced by Merck 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, but it has been linked to problems where it actually causes users to experience longer and more painful shingles outbreaks, as well as other infections.

According to allegations raised the lawsuit filed by Fred and other plaintiffs nationwide, Merck used an “under-attenuated” version of the live virus in the vaccine, which may cause individuals to develop a more severe and persistent form of the shingles it was designed to prevent.

Craig Fred was inoculated with the Zostavax vaccine in December 2016. However, shortly after receiving the shot, he suffered both congestive heart failure and shingles He died on February 12, 2017 of congestive heart failure.

“Merck failed to exercise due care in the labeling of Zostavax and failed to issue to consumers and/or their healthcare providers adequate warnings as to the risk of serious bodily injury, including viral infection, resulting from its use,” the lawsuit states. “Merck continued to manufacture and market its product despite the knowledge, whether direct or ascertained with reasonable care, that Zostavax posed a serious risk of bodily harm to consumers. This is especially true given its tenuous efficacy.”

Merck & Co. currently faces nearly 400 product liability claims, each involving similar allegations that Zostavax caused individuals to develop more severe and persistent shingles outbreaks, as well as other complications associated with the use of an “under-attenuated” live virus contained in the vaccine.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed nationwide, the 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 vaccine 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.

While all cases filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized before Judge Bartle, 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.

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