State and federal courts in Pennsylvania have seen a growing number of Zostavax lawsuit filings by individuals who allegedly experienced serious complications after receiving the shingles vaccine. According to The Legal Intelligencer, the majority of claims are pending in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. However, one lawsuit was recently filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
It is estimated that 1 million new cases of shingles occur in the U.S. every year. Anyone who has developed chickenpox is at risk for shingles, as the varicella zoster virus remains dormant in the nerve cells for years. Once reactivated, the virus can travel from the nerves to the skin, resulting in a painful rash or blisters that generally appear on one side of the body. In some individuals, the nerve pain associated with shingles can last for months, and may even become chronic.
Zostavax was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006, and is the only shingles vaccine cleared for use in this country. The vaccine contains a weakened version of varicella zoster. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that most seniors over the age of 60 receive Zostavax, it has been shown to reduce the risk of shingles by just 51%.
According to the Legal Intelligencer, a number of Zostavax lawsuit plaintiffs who have filed in Pennsylvania are residents of other states. However, Merck & Co. manufactures the vaccine in West Point, Pennsylvania. Filings have been on the increase since the FDA asked the company to add more side effect information to the Zostavax label regarding eye injuries and infections.
The currently pending Zostavax cases involve a variety of injuries, ranging from rashes and seizures to severe outbreaks of chickenpox. One of the lawsuits even alleges that a patient died from liver failure allegedly caused by the shingles vaccine.
Attorneys interviewed by The Legal Intelligencer said they anticipated more Zostavax lawsuit filings in the near future.
“We are preparing to file many cases … in the court of common pleas and we will be seeking a mass tort status,” one lawyer said.
Generally, mass tort programs involve lawsuits that allege a common injury. Zostavax plaintiffs broadly appear to suffer from neurological injuries, which could make the litigation a candidate for centralization. Whether or not a mass tort is established to handle Zostavax lawsuits will depend upon the science behind the claims.