Merck distributed 36 million doses of Zostavax shingles vaccine from 2006 to 2017. Patients over 50 took the weakened form of the herpes zoster virus in the hopes they would be among the 51 percent of people who experience a prophylactic benefit for up to six years. Recently filed Zostavax lawsuits allege that recipients suffered full-blown shingles, blindness, autoimmune disease, nerve problems, hearing loss, spinal inflammation, heart problems, paralysis, and even death. We expect to see thousands of lawsuits filed across the country.

Primary Side Effects of Zostavax

Shingles is caused by dormant chickenpox virus, which can remain in the body’s nervous system for years before causing painful blisters on the torso. The Zostavax vaccine uses a weakened form of the herpes zoster virus to activate the immune system and build up immunity. Patients who are immunocompromised may not have the ability to fight off the virus, causing a more treatment-resistant form of shingles and host of other injuries.

FDA-reported side effects of Zostavax include:

  • Autoimmune Disorders (Guillain-Barre, Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, Meniere’s Disease)
  • Brain Damage
  • Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis)
  • Blindness
  • Chickenpox
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Death
  • Disseminated Varicella (when shingles virus spreads to other organs)
  • Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  • Fatal Liver Failure
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Hearing Loss
  • Heart Attack
  • Herpetic Neuralgia (nerve disorder)
  • Hives
  • Joint Pain
  • Meningitis (inflammation to brain and spinal cord)
  • Muscle Pain
  • Myelitis (spinal cord inflammation)
  • Nausea
  • Necrotizing Retinitis (eye disorder)
  • Nerve Pain
  • Paralysis
  • Pneumonia
  • Postherpetic Neuralgia (burning that continues long after the shingles rash clears)
  • Rashes
  • Retinitas (nerve damage to the retina)
  • Secondary Bacterial Infections (from shingles rash)
  • Shingles
  • Stroke
  • Vasculitis
  • Vertigo and Inner Ear Nerve Damage
  • Vision Problems

Lawsuits claim that Merck knew (or should have known) that Zostavax could cause shingles. Merck “intentionally, willfully, and knowingly misrepresented” the safety of Zostavax, according to lawsuit filings.

Zostavax FDA History, Actions & Recall Information

Zostavax was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 25, 2006. There have been no FDA recalls or regulatory actions regarding the vaccine, but the FDA did amend the label to include the risk that Zostavax could cause shingles in December 2014 – eight years after the vaccine had been on the market.

In November 2017, the FDA approved Shingrix, a competing shingles vaccination. Consumer demand for Shingrix exceeded market expectations, with shortages expected through 2019. Now that there is a competing product on the market, it will be easier for lawyers to compare and contrast safety data to build their case.

Zostavax Manufacturer Response to Lawsuits

Zostavax manufacturer Merck issued a statement that they “stand behind the demonstrated safety and efficacy” of the product, which is licensed in 50 countries. “Nothing is more important to Merck than the safety of our medicines and vaccine,” a company spokesperson told FiercePharma. Before gaining FDA approval, they had studied the safety and effectiveness in over 30,000 patients and the CDC continues to recommend its use, she added.

The company is concurrently battling a separate lawsuit for its mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, in which two former Merck scientists blew the whistle on company practice of manipulating clinical test results to maintain their monopoly. The lawsuit alleges that the fraudulent testing may have contributed to the major mumps outbreaks in 2006 and 2009 because the vaccine was falling below the necessary 95 percent efficiency levels.

Status of Zostavax Multidistrict Litigation

The first Merck Zostavax lawsuit was filed in New Jersey in August 2017. Plaintiff Norman Sukkar claims he suddenly woke up unable to walk less than five months after receiving the vaccine. Doctors diagnosed him with acute transverse myelitis. His lawsuit is part of the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) formed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to consolidate similar lawsuits.

The benefit of MDL formation is that early discovery and proceedings can be streamlined for faster resolution. At least seven actions are pending in Pennsylvania, which represent the earliest filings, with some of the most severe allegations. As of August 2018, there was a total of 98 lawsuits included in MDL #2848.

Senior District Judge Harvey Bartle III has been following the evolution of the MDL since the first filing. In some instances, Judge Bartle could pass a summary judgement if the evidence is particularly compelling. There is no shingles vaccine class action lawsuit as of September 2018, so most cases are expected to proceed individually in court.

In addition to the MDL, large clusters of cases exist in California (300 plaintiffs) and New Jersey (800 plaintiffs.) Similar individual lawsuits are popping up in New York, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Arizona, too. If you received the Zostavax vaccine after 2006 and developed severe side effects, it’s not too late to join the growing number of plaintiffs filing lawsuits.

Zostavax Lawsuit Settlement Amounts

While some pharmaceutical company vaccines are protected by the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, Zostavax is not one of them. In general, individuals harmed by vaccines have recovered more than $3.6 billion dollars for the harm they have suffered, thanks to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

While there have been no Zostavax lawsuit settlements or jury awards to date, other vaccine settlements include:

  • $11.6 million after a flu shot left a woman partially paralyzed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • $6 million for Gardasil HPV vaccine recipients who suffered seizures, blindness, and death.
  • $4.4 million for a plaintiff with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy caused by the flu shot.

Contact Showard Law for More Zostavax Information

People who received a vaccine-triggered episode of shingles did so within three weeks of their vaccination. Other symptoms may have taken up to one year to manifest. If you or a loved one received the Zostavax vaccine after 2006 and suffered adverse health effects, you may qualify for compensation to cover past, present, and future medical expenses, lost time off work, and emotional suffering. Contact Showard Law Firm to explore your legal options.

Additional Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Lawsuit Resources:

  1. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MDL Statistics Report – Distribution of Pending MDL Dockets by District,
  2. Fierce Pharma, Zostavax patients sue Merck, claiming shingles shot caused injuries and death,
  3. Precision Vaccinations, Shingrix Knocks Down Zostavax,
  4., Merck Whistleblower Suit A Boon to Vaccine Foes Even As It Stresses Importance of Vaccines,

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