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Zostavax Lawsuits


The pharmaceutical corporation, Merck, is finding itself involved in more lawsuits related to the shingles vaccine Zostavax.  Plaintiffs in Zostavax lawsuits allege the medication has a design defect and that Merck failed to warn consumers about severe side effects.  

The serious complications and side effects for which the plaintiffs in Zostavax lawsuits are seeking monetary recovery for include:

  • Development of the virus that the medication was supposed to prevent (shingles)
  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Liver failure
  • Paralysis

In 2016, the first lawsuit against Merck related to the use of Zostavax was filed.  Since then, thousands of others have been filed.  Many of the lawsuits have been recently consolidated in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District U.S. Court as the Zostavax multidistrict litigation (Zostavax MDL). The judge assigned to the MDL is The Honorable Harvey Bartle.

The Zostavax MDL plaintiffs allege, in short, that:

  • The Zostavax vaccine could cause severe injuries, even death.
  • The drug is unreasonably dangerous as designed.
  • The defendants Merck (and Merck’s owner Bayer) misrepresented the vaccine’s safety.
  • Merck and Bayer failed to warn consumers of the risk of negative side effects.

There are three conditions for qualifying plaintiffs to participate in the Zostavax lawsuits:

  • The claimant must have taken the drug after 2006 (that was the year it was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • The claimant must have experienced shingles anytime between three weeks and a year after receiving the vaccine.
  • A licensed physician must have diagnosed the claimant with shingles.

If the above conditions apply to you, consider calling an experienced drug products liability lawyer.  Taking legal action against a rich and powerful drug manufacturer to hold them accountable for negligence may sound daunting. With the right representation, such a claim may result in your being paid monetary compensation.

In this article:

What Compensation is Available to Plaintiffs in Zostavax Lawsuits?

Compensatory damages are paid in personal injury claims to award some recovery to plaintiffs who have suffered losses. The two most common categories of compensatory damages are:

  • Economic damages include such items as property damage, medical bills, and wage loss.
  • Noneconomic damages are commonly referred to as pain and suffering.

A third, less-often awarded category of damages is known as punitive, or “exemplary” damages.  Punitive damages are not related to the plaintiff’s losses.  The goal of punitive damages is to punish a defendant, usually for acts of extreme recklessness or intentional harm.  If they are granted, the amount awarded for punitive damages is added to the compensatory damages total.

What is Zostavax and How Does it Work

Zostavax is a vaccine with the intent to reduce the risk of the recipient getting shingles.  The vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006.  It was designed for patients 50 years of age and older.  The vaccine is a live virus, which means that a weakened, live form of the zoster virus is injected into the recipient’s arm.  The intention is for the body to fight off the infection, which then strengthens the immune system against the zoster virus.  In theory, the body then becomes more able to fight the real world zoster virus, which causes shingles.

A live virus vaccine poses risks.  Many that receive the vaccine have a weakened immune system and may contract chickenpox or shingles from the vaccine.  The New England Journal of Medicine found the effectiveness of Zostavax to be only about 50%.  In the 50-51% of cases where the vaccine is successful, its effects last for about six years.

When it was licensed by the FDA in 2006, the FDA noted potential adverse effects from Zostavax, including:

  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Joint Pain
Eligibility for Joining the Zostavax Lawsuits

In addition to the three conditions noted at this beginning of this article, which again are:

  • The claimant must have taken the drug after 2006, the year it was licensed by the FDA.
  • The claimant must have experienced shingles anytime between three weeks and a year after having the vaccine.
  • A licensed physician must have diagnosed the claimant with shingles.

A claimant may also be eligible to join in the Zostavax lawsuits if he or she suffered one of the following conditions within two years from receiving Zostavax:

  • Stroke
  • Postherpetic neuralgia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hearing loss
  • Certain neurological disorders
  • Blindness
  • Pneumonia
  • Death
Zostavax Complications

According to the FDA, the side effects and complications that can be related to Zostavax are:

  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint Pain
  • Nausea
  • Eye Disorders
  • Muscle pain

In the Zostavax lawsuits, plaintiffs allege the vaccine may result in far more severe complications, including:

  • Liver Failure
  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing loss
  • Brain damage
  • Death
Shingles: What Is It?

Shingles is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus (zoster virus), and it results in a painful rash that most often appears on the torso.  The same virus that causes shingles also causes chickenpox, and a person has to have been previously infected with chickenpox to get shingles.  Shingles appears most commonly in those over 50 years of age.  

Common shingles symptoms include:

  • Acute pain, tingling, and/or burning localized to an area of the body
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Itching
  • A rash that shows up a couple of days after the pain
How Else Can Shingles Be Prevented?

There is a different vaccine available for the prevention of shingles, called Shingrix.  Shingrix does not contain the live virus.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Shingrix vaccine is preferred over Zostavax. 

The recommendation from the CDC is that adults 50 years of age and older who are healthy get two separate Shingrix doses, waiting two to six months between treatments.  The CDC has found that Shingrix is over ninety percent effective at the prevention of shingles.  That protection remains at above eighty-five percent for at least four years after the vaccine is administered.  

Mass Tort Lawsuits and MDLs

A mass tort is a combination of civil lawsuits brought by different plaintiffs with similar injuries against the same defendants.  Unlike in a class-action suit, where all plaintiffs share one award, the plaintiffs in a mass tort remain separate and (if they prevail) will receive individual awards or settlements.  Most U.S. mass tort claims are products liability cases, and many are brought against dangerous drug manufacturers. Once many similar lawsuits are filed, they are often consolidated into an MDL or multi-district litigation. MDL’s are handled in federal court, and usually, a few of the cases go to trial – those few cases are called bellwethers, and they set the settlement range for the remaining claims.

Here is a video featuring a Mayo Clinic physician discussing shingles and vaccines.

What to Do If you have been Harmed by Zostavax

If you have suffered any of the severe side effects or complications referenced in this article after receiving Zostavax, consult your personal physician.  You may also want to:

  • Report the adverse reaction to the FDA/CDC’s Adverse Event Reporting System, which can be accessed online here.
  • Consult an experienced drug products liability attorney.
Experienced Legal Representation is Crucial

There are several complexities and challenges associated with claims against big pharmaceutical corporations. It is essential for anyone who has been harmed by Zostavax to seek an attorney with extensive experience in claims against drug manufacturers.

Sacramento Drug Products Liability Lawyer

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a health condition related to the Zostavax vaccine, call our law office for free and friendly advice: (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. For your convenience, an online contact form is available.

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