A shingles vaccine for adults over the age of 50, Zostavax® has been the subject of numerous lawsuits in recent years. Though the vaccine has been in use for over a decade, men and women across the U.S. are claiming it can cause serious health problems, including:
- The development of shingles (the virus it’s supposed to prevent)
- Hearing loss
- Blindness or other eye disorders
- Neurological problems
- Cardiovascular issues
- Autoimmune diseases
Lawsuits filed against Merck and Co., the manufacturer of Zostavax, allege that Merck did not disclose all the vaccine’s side effects in their marketing and selling of the drug.
Legal action against Zostavax has been mounting in recent years, making it crucial to stay informed about its potential dangers. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 1 in 3 adults over the age of 50 will develop shingles, and Zostavax is among the most common vaccinations used to prevent the virus.
What Is Zostavax?
In 2006, Zostavax became the first shingles vaccine to be approved by the FDA. Administered as a shot to the upper arm, Zostavax works using a live — but weakened — form of the varicella-zoster virus to decrease the risk of shingles. The varicella-zoster virus also causes chickenpox in children.
Due to its novel approach to fighting shingles, which was thought to be highly effective at the time, Zostavax seemed to be an important breakthrough in the containment of the disease. And over the next 12 years, Zostavax would help Merck earn nearly $750 million in profits.
Though Zostavax was used widely throughout the U.S., it proved after only a few years that it was not as effective as originally thought. The FDA’s initial press release noted that the rate of serious complications was higher in those who were given the shot compared to those who received a placebo.
After Zostavax went to market, subsequent studies showed that the weakened varicella-zoster virus can grow stronger in the body and even lead to diseases in rare cases.
As of January 2019, Zostavax’s official website warns consumers about some of the medical conditions that legal filings have addressed, among which are eye conditions, shingles and central nervous system damage.
Lawsuits against Merck have taken issue with the company’s warnings, claiming Merck did not properly inform them of all the side effects beyond a few minor ones such as inflammation at the base of injection or a fever.
Memos from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) show that some of these warnings were only added on much later. For example, a warning about eye inflammation was added in early 2016—nearly a decade after Zostavax was first approved by the FDA.
Merck Denies Allegations Despite Deaths, Widespread Adverse Side Effects
Legal claims against Merck allege that negative side effects typically set in a few days after the Zostavax vaccine is administered. Over time, the symptoms worsen and may develop into life-threatening conditions.
In some of these cases, the affected person is still dealing with serious health problems months or even years after they were given Zostavax. And in some extreme cases, patients using Zostavax have died from alleged complications caused by the vaccine.
According to a recent legal filing, an Indiana man using Zostavax developed a fever and widespread rashes days after getting the vaccine in 2014. These symptoms gave way to a severe case of chickenpox, which led to pneumonia and bronchitis after it spread into his lungs.
In another claim, a Nevada woman also claimed that Zostavax caused long-term health issues, including eye damage, headaches, high blood pressure, and dizziness. These symptoms started shortly after she received the vaccination in 2014.
Unfortunately, these cases illustrate only a fraction of the symptoms that have been reported.
Those who have sued Zostavax claim the vaccine caused:
- Hearing loss
- Eye damage and blindness
- High blood pressure
- Liver failure
- Facial paralysis
- Inflammation of the brain
- Brain damage
- Facial paralysis
- Spinal cord inflammation
- Heart attacks and heart failure
- Permanent damage to the central nervous system
Still, in spite of all of the pain and suffering patients who have used Zostavax have incurred, Merck continues to deny allegations brought against them.
The number of lawsuits claiming Zostavax caused major health issues is on the rise. And as more and more patients step forward to share the adverse side effects they have experienced as a result of using Zostavax, the vaccine is still being administered to thousands of American patients day in and day out.