Zostavax is a vaccine manufactured by Merck that is used to treat the herpes zoster virus or shingles. The vaccine is meant only for patients 50 years and older, the age when the virus is more common.
Zostavax is administered as a single dose by injection. The vaccine uses a weakened form of the shingles virus, which works to activate the immune system. Once the body is able to fight off this version of the virus, it builds immunity and can then theoretically fight off full-fledged herpes zoster.
If successful, the vaccine will last for about six years. Some studies have reported that Zostavax only works in 50 percent of patients. If you have experienced a worsened medical condition after receiving an injection, you should contact a Zostavax lawyer to discuss your legal rights. Our attorneys can help you file a claim to recover damages.
What are the Serious Side Effects of Zostavax?
Zostavax has been found to cause several serious side effects, leading injured patients and their lawyers to file lawsuits against Merck — and its parent company, Bayer — for failing to properly warn about potential complications.
Serious side effects associated with Zostavax include:
- Vision Loss
- Hearing Loss
- Brain Damage
- Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)
- Bell’s Palsy
- Congestive heart failure
- Autoimmune disorders (such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, Meniere’s Disease, and others)
- Herpetic Neuralgia
- Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)
Zostavax is meant to prevent shingles, but many patients actually contracted the virus after receiving the vaccine.
Shingles is caused when a dormant chickenpox virus sits in the body’s nervous system for years and eventually develops into shingles. Symptoms typically consist of painful blisters on one side of the torso.
Zostavax works by injecting a weakened form of the shingles virus into the body in order to trigger an immune response, but for some patients, even the weakened form of the virus is too strong. Patients who are immunocompromised cannot fight off the virus in the vaccine, and thereby develop shingles.
Zostavax lawsuits filed by skilled lawyers claim that Merck knew the drug could cause shingles but did not list it as a side effect until 2014, eight years after Zostavax was first approved by the FDA in 2006.
In much the same way as Zostavax can cause shingles, it can also lead to chickenpox.
If the immune system is not strong enough to fight off the shingles virus in the vaccine, it can develop into chickenpox. Varicella, or chickenpox, is a viral infection that causes an itchy rash of small blisters.
The chickenpox virus is typically contracted by young children, but in the case of Zostavax users, all patients are over the age of 50. The virus can be a lot more damaging to older patients.
If a patient does contract shingles from Zostavax, the virus can attack the eyes and cause severe inflammation and scarring of the eye tissue.
As a result, necrotising retinitis, or retinal damage, can occur and lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness.
Other Reported Complications
- Hearing Loss: Shingles patients can develop the shingles rash on their face or around their ears, and the inflammation can cause persistent hearing loss or even deafness.
- Brain Damage: Shingles can cause inflammation in the brain, or encephalitis, which can lead to serious neurological disorders. Symptoms can include paralysis, stroke, and problems with hearing or balance.
- Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN): This occurs when shingles damages nerve fibers in the skin, causing a lifelong disability of extreme chronic pain. About 1 in 5 people who contract shingles develop PHN.
- Myelitis: If the shingles infection reaches the spine, it can cause spinal cord inflammation, or myelitis. This is one of the most serious complications of the virus, as it can result in permanent paralysis, numbness, pain and tingling sensations, and incontinence.
- Bell’s Palsy: If the shingles virus spreads on our near the face, it can cause inflammation of the nerves that control the facial muscles, leading to facial paralysis, or Bell’s Palsy. Symptoms include drooping facial features, jaw pain, drooling, change in the ability to taste, and change in the tear ducts.
A person who has experienced side effects from a Zostavax injection should talk to an attorney about their rights to file a claim.
Litigation Against Merck
Zostavax lawsuits have been filed by attorneys against Merck in both federal and state courts alleging that the vaccine causes serious side effects about which the company failed to warn patients.
The first lawsuit was filed in February 2017 in a Philadelphia court by a woman who claimed that she suffered headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision after receiving Zostavax. Long-term, she continued to experience vision problems, high blood pressure, dizziness, and headaches.
The lawsuit claims that due to numerous reports made to the FDA about the vaccine’s adverse side effects, Merck knew about the complications and failed to provide a warning to both patients and medical providers.
Merck has faced litigation before over the efficacy of one of its vaccines. The company is still fighting another lawsuit over its mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which former employees say was not as effective as the company presented it to be.
In 2010, two former Merck scientists accused the company of tampering with clinical test results to maintain sales of the MMR vaccine. Allegedly, in the late 1990s, the vaccine fell below the 95 percent efficiency level required to sell the vaccine. Instead of pulling the medication or improving it, the two whistleblowers claim they were asked to help alter the clinical trial results.
The two scientists speculate that the fraudulent results could have contributed to the mumps outbreaks in 2006 and 2009, as they believe children were receiving weaker vaccinations.
Retain an Attorney for a Claim Against Zostavax
You should consider scheduling a consultation with a Zostavax lawyer if you or a loved one has suffered side effects from an injection.