The Zostavax shingles vaccine is a shot designed to prevent varicella zoster virus (VZV), the virus responsible for causing shingles (herpes zoster). Unfortunately, this vaccine does not always act as intended. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates drugs and medications, has already received more than 1,000 reports linking Zostavax to serious health problems like vision loss, facial paralysis, heart failure, and in some cases, even death. Hundreds of patients injured by Zostavax have already filed lawsuits against Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, with thousands more claims expected to arise in the future.
If you or one of your family members suffered injuries or health complications after receiving a Zostavax shot for the shingles virus, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit. You could be entitled to receive financial compensation for your medical bills, your pain and suffering, and other harm you suffered after being vaccinated with Zostavax. To discuss your legal options with a Zostavax injury lawyer in a free and confidential consultation, contact Prosper Shaked Accident Injury Attorneys PA online, or call (305) 694-2676.
What is Zostavax Used For?
Zostavax was introduced to the U.S. market by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck in 2006 after a study featuring 38,000 adults, all of whom were at least 60 years old, showed that the vaccine effectively lowered the incidence of shingles by more than 51%. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults age 60 or older receive vaccinations against shingles, with some exceptions for pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and people with allergies to any of the ingredients found in Zostavax (such as neomycin).
Zostavax is administered subcutaneously, or under the skin, which means the patient receives a shot. Because Zostavax is a single-dose medication, only one shot is given. In the absence of effective treatment or prevention, the shingles virus can lead to painful rashes and blistering of the skin. In some cases, the pain continues even after the underlying rash has been treated, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
How Dangerous is Zostavax?
Though studies have shown the Zostavax vaccine to be effective against the shingles virus, there have also been numerous reports of serious adverse effects among patients. Some potential Zostavax risks, side effects, and complications are discussed below.
Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Risks and Side Effects
The Zostavax website lists all of the following conditions as potential side effects of Zostavax:
- Allergic reactions
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
It may seem surprising to see “shingles” included on a list of possible side effects for a shingles vaccine. However, plaintiffs’ lawsuits allege that Zostavax – which is supposed to contain low levels of the live shingles virus – was improperly formulated by Merck, causing patients to receive an excessively powerful dose of the live virus. When formulated properly, vaccines like Zostavax should expose the patient to a dose that is just strong enough to trigger the immune system. Instead, dozens of Zostavax recipients were given a powerful strain of VZV, developing recurring and difficult-to-treat viruses as a result.
Injuries Caused by Zostavax Shingles Vaccine
While it is fairly common for Zostavax patients to temporarily experience the side effects listed above, such as nausea and headaches, some of the risks are far more serious, and some could be long-lasting or even permanent. Negative reports have poured in from patients all over the country – not only in complaints made to the FDA, but also to various medical websites.
For example, at least 20 patients on WebMD reported developing the symptoms of keratitis – a painful condition that causes the cornea, which is the clear dome of the eye, to become inflamed – within one month of being vaccinated against the shingles virus. Additionally, research sponsored by Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp., which is publicly available online through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), showed higher numbers of “serious adverse events” (SAEs) in the Zostavax group of study participants than in the placebo group. The reported figures were as follows:
- Total participants
- Zostavax – 5,979
- Placebo – 5,990
- Zostavax – 340
- Placebo – 300
- SAEs “deemed vaccine-related by investigator”
- Zostavax – 2
- Placebo – 1
- Zostavax – 24
- Placebo – 17
For purposes of the study, a “serious adverse event” was defined to include any “event that results in death, is life threatening, results in a persistent or significant disability/incapacity, results in hospitalization… is a congenital anomaly/birth defect, is a cancer, is an overdose, or is considered an ‘other important medical event’ based on medical judgement.”
Among the plaintiffs filing Zostavax lawsuits, various injuries and even fatalities have been reported. According to various claims, Zostavax has been shown to cause encephalitis, facial paralysis, heart problems, loss of vision or hearing, and myelitis.
Brain Inflammation (Encephalitis)
Encephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain. Though treatable, encephalitis can have severe symptoms, including seizures, hallucinations, paralysis, vomiting, extreme drowsiness, fevers, weakness, and mental confusion. If the encephalitis is severe, the patient may require hospitalization, which may involve IV fluids, oral medication, and even artificial respiration.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Zostavax has been linked to congestive heart failure, or CHF. CHF is both a chronic and progressive condition, which means it is a persistent condition that typically grows more severe as time passes. CHF occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump blood throughout the body, causing blood and other fluids to accumulate in the wrong areas of the body. Without rapid treatment, CHF may be fatal.
Facial Paralysis (Bell’s Palsy)
Bell’s palsy is a localized paralysis that only affects certain muscles of the face. A person can be mobile and still develop facial paralysis. Bell’s palsy, which is also known as idiopathic facial paralysis, occurs suddenly and causes the muscles on one side of the face to droop or sag, resulting in an asymmetrical appearance. Some cases of Bell’s palsy resolve naturally on their own, while more severe cases require treatment with physical therapy.
Spinal Cord Inflammation (Myelitis)
Myelitis refers to inflammation (“-itis”) of the myelin: fatty insulating tissue that covers the nerve cell fibers. This results in a range of serious and debilitating effects, which can include paralysis, loss of bladder and/or bowel control (incontinence), muscle weakness, and loss of sensation. People who have been diagnosed with myelitis may need to undergo rehabilitative therapy, take medication, and receive intravenous (IV) steroids.
Vision and Hearing Loss (Blindness, Deafness)
Using Zostavax may result in partial hearing loss or complete hearing loss, or result in the loss of partial vision. At least one plaintiff, for example, alleged that Zostavax vaccination caused VZV-related loss of vision in one previously functional eye. Hearing loss and vision loss are especially devastating, as these conditions tend to be incurable and result in major impairment.
Filing a Zostavax Lawsuit
Because Zostavax is targeted toward elderly patients, it is not administered during childhood, which means that injured patients cannot look to the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for compensation. Instead, hundreds of individual lawsuits are currently pending against Merck, the company that makes Zostavax, in various states across the U.S.
While many of these lawsuits are being filed in New Jersey, where Merck is incorporated, there have also been Zostavax injury cases in Pennsylvania and California. Specifically, the plaintiffs in these cases are alleging that Merck was negligent, meaning the company failed to exercise a reasonable standard of care, with regard to the way Zostavax was designed, distributed, formulated, labeled, manufactured, marketed, sold, and tested.
When many people are injured by the same product, such as a defective medication, the injury victims or plaintiffs will sometimes consolidate their cases together into a single, large case, which is known as a “class action.” However, class actions may not be financially advantageous for all plaintiffs.
Zostavax injury attorney Prosper Shaked is dedicated to maximizing the value of your claim, and is ready to fight tirelessly for the greatest amount of compensation possible. If you believe that you or your loved one may have a Zostavax claim, please do not hesitate to contact Prosper Shaked Accident Injury Attorneys PA for your free consultation.
Zostavax Lawsuit Lawyer for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Claims
If you or your spouse suffered an injury or developed medical complications after receiving a shot of Zostavax for the shingles virus, you may have a case to file an injury lawsuit against Merck. It may be possible for you to recover compensation for Zostavax-related medical expenses, such as medications or surgeries you needed to correct the complications. You may also be able to get compensated for the pain and suffering you experienced, in addition to income or wages you have lost due to the disabling effects of your injury. A knowledgeable Zostavax attorney like Prosper Shaked can help.
To learn more about filing a Zostavax injury claim, contact us online, or call Prosper Shaked Accident Injury Attorneys PA at (305) 694-2676 for a free legal consultation. Our phones are open 24 hours, and we handle Zostavax lawsuits throughout the United States.