Shingles Vaccine Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Fatal Outbreak After Zostavax Injection

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The children of a Louisiana woman indicate that side effects of the shingles vaccine Zostavax caused the death of their mother, as a result of a severe outbreak that surfaced only a few weeks after she received the live-virus injection commonly given to older adults in recent years.

The wrongful death complaint (PDF) was filed by Sherri Forrestall and Terri Blackman, the children of Darlene Howard, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on July 2, naming Merck & Co. as the defendant.

According to the lawsuit, Howard was injected with the Zostavax shingles vaccine on April 28, 2015 at a Walgreens Pharmacy. However, by June 1 of the same year, she was suffering from a severe outbreak of disseminated shingles, which covered her body and resulted in hospitalization, ultimately leading to her death only a month later.

“Due to the debilitating and severe shingles outbreak, which affected other organs and other bodily systems, Darlene Howard died on July 3, 2015,” the lawsuit states. “As a direct and proximate result of Merck’s defective Zostavax vaccine, Darlene Howard’s injuries and death and Plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by Merck’s product and caused by the Zostavax vaccine.”

Zostavax was introduced in 2006, involving a single-dose injection that contains a live virus designed to vaccinate older adults against the development of shingles. However, the vaccine 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 complaint joins hundreds of other shingles vaccine lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide who experienced problems with Zostavax, alleging that safer alternative designs were available, including the newer Shingrix vaccine, which does not involve the use of a live virus.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints filed by Howard’s children 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.

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