February 27, 2017 — The first lawsuit over Merck’s shingles vaccine Zostavax has been filed by a woman from Reno, Nevada who developed severe complications.
The plaintiff, Jorja Bentley, was vaccinated with Zostavax in November 2014. According to the lawsuit, she developed side effects within 24 hours — headache, dizziness, and blurred vision — and still suffers from elevated blood pressure and damage to her right eye.
The lawsuit (PDF) was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on February 22, 2017 — In RE: Jorja Bentley vs. Merck & Co., et al. — Case No. 161004102
Merck & Co. is accused of downplaying the risk of severe side effects from Zostavax, a shingles vaccine that was approved in 2006 for adults over 60 years old. Studies show it prevents shingles in 50% of patients.
In August 2014, the FDA ordered Merck to add “shingles” to the list of potential side effects, as well as strengthen warnings about “infections and infestations” with the vaccine strain of the virus.
It contains a live herpes zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox — but Zostavax is about 14-times stronger than Varivax, Merck’s chickenpox vaccine for children.
The virus cause a mild infection that triggers an immune response, which gives a person immunity when they recover. Instead, some people who got Zostavax actually developed chickenpox or shingles — the same diseases it was supposed to prevent.
Shingles is an extremely painful skin rash that occurs in about one-third of people who had chickenpox as children. The rash clears up in a few weeks, but about 20% of people are left with chronic pain.
Pain is caused by nerve damage in the surface of the skin (Post-Herpetic Neuralgia). Shingles rashes on the face can cause permanent blindness and deafness. Some studies show higher rates of heart attack and stroke in the first month after an outbreak of shingles.
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