Legal Problems for Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Manufacturer, But New Drug Approved

by Terry Bryant

In an attempt to prevent shingles, some patients may have unintentionally contracted the virus from their shingles vaccination. Zostavax, until recently the only approved shingles vaccine in the U.S., may cause serious injuries, including shingles, blindness, and even death. Injured patients have been filing lawsuits against Zostavax’s manufacturer, Merck, and its new owner, Bayer, for failing to warn about its potential side effects.

The drug contains live varicella zoster virus – the chickenpox virus that also causes shingles. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in their body. Later in life, if the immune system becomes weakened, the virus can reactivate to cause shingles.

Both chickenpox and shingles may result in serious damage to the nervous system, including conditions like meningitis, encephalitis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and stroke. Some people who develop shingles have serious side effects, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, congestive heart failure, or varicella pneumonia.

New Shingles Vaccine Just Approved by FDA

A new adult vaccine has recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). GlaxoSmithKline’s Shingrix is now recommended by the agency for use as a shingles preventative for all Americans 50 and older.

One in three Americans will develop shingles – also known as herpes zoster – in their lifetime, with the risk increasing to half of adults over 85, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which consults with the CDC on vaccine usage, also recommended that adults who received Zostavax, a shingles vaccine made by Merck, be revaccinated with Shingrix.

Lawsuits Against Zostavax Drugmaker

Zostavax uses a weakened form of the herpes zoster virus in order to activate the immune system. After fighting the weakened version of the virus, the body builds immunity. But over the years, Zostavax has achieved a track record for only working in half of all patients who receive the vaccine, at best, and even then the protection lasts for only about six years.

For patients who are immunocompromised, their bodies may not be able to fight off the small dose of the virus. This can cause a host of injuries, including chickenpox and shingles itself.

Lawsuits claim that, despite knowing that Zostavax could cause shingles, Merck didn’t list this as a side effect until December 2014—long after the vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006.

The FDA reports that Zostavax side effects can include the following:

  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Eye disorders, including necrotizing retinitis.

Some plaintiffs allege that Zostavax caused even more serious complications, such as blindness, paralysis, brain damage, and fatal liver failure.

If you received a shingles vaccination and subsequently developed shingles, chickenpox, or some other serious medical complication, you may feel it appropriate to consider taking legal action. If you have suffered from any side effects or shingles itself after receiving Zostavax, contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law at 1 (800) 444-5000 or fill out our contact form.