Zostavax is a vaccine intended to prevent the herpes zoster virus, better known as shingles. It’s a virus that tends to develop later in life, usually after age 50, that can be extremely painful.
Like other vaccines, Zostavax is made from a live but weakened form of the virus. Though deemed safe by the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, many recipients claim to have developed a number of serious side effects after getting the vaccine.
There are now approximately 60 federal lawsuits against the manufacturer making their way through the court system. One plaintiff claims the Zostavax vaccine caused her to suffer a stroke. Her lawsuit also assets Merck was aware of the risk associated with its product but failed to warn doctors and consumers.
Additionally, an earlier lawsuit brought against the company alleges the recipient of the vaccine experienced a loss of vision in his left eye two months after receiving Zostavax. He was diagnosed with retinal necrosis, which is tissue decay in his retina, likely due to the shingles virus.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus in seniors, typically aged 50 and older. Most people who develop shingles experience debilitating nerve pain and a painful rash. This can result in nerve damage and can be long-term or permanent in some people.
The condition is not fatal and causes no permanent damage, but it is extremely painful and can last a long time.
More than 36 Million Americans have received Zostavax since it was approved by the FDA in 2006. The vaccine had earned Merck more than $700 million before sales dropped after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended an alternative vaccine called Shingrix. The CDC based its recommendation on reduced risk for serious side effects with the newly developed vaccine option.
Merck suffered significant financial losses as a result of the CDC’s recommendation.
Zostavax is known to trigger a few significant side effects, including cardiovascular events, permanent hearing loss, and loss of eyesight. Many recipients also experienced a flare of shingles – the exact condition the vaccine is intended to prevent.
Shingrix, the alternative vaccine, does not have the same reported side effects, but does require two doses during a six month period to be effective.
Zostavax Cases Consolidated into a MDL
Since the first few Zostavax lawsuits were filed, the amount of legal action against Merck concerning the vaccine has grown quickly. The manufacturer was forced to request the cases be consolidated into a Multi-District Litigation in front of one District Judge.
Thousands more lawsuits are expected to be filed in the coming months and will allege that Merck’s Zostavax vaccine resulted in significant injuries for thousands of people including blindness, stroke, and heart attacks. Merck requested that all the cases be heard in front of one court for pre-trial proceedings due to the large number of injury cases. According to one attorney linked to the proceedings, [the vaccine] “…ruined a great many Americans’ lives when it did exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do and infected thousands with the shingles virus.”
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.