Merck & Co., the manufacturer of Zostavax, wants a lawsuit filed over the shingles vaccine booted from the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. Last Monday, the drug maker removed the case to the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, arguing that the inclusion of a Merck employee as a defendant was done solely to give the state court jurisdiction over the claim.
According to a report from The Legal Intelligencer, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman who claims that that exposure to Zostavax caused her to develop elevated blood pressure, headaches and an eye injury. In addition to Merck, several company employees are named as defendants, including a woman who resides in Pennsylvania. She is accused of “intentionally, willfully, and knowingly, fraudulently” misrepresenting the safety of Zostavax as part of Merck’s vaccine team. However the company disputes the specifics of her employment, and charges that she was fraudulently joined in order to keep the complaint in state court.
The case in question was the only Zostavax lawsuit filed thus far in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. However, five other claims involving the vaccine were already pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. As previously reported, the cases involve a variety of injuries, ranging from rashes and seizures to severe outbreaks of chickenpox. A wrongful death lawsuit was also filed on behalf of a patient who died from liver failure allegedly caused by Zostavax.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 will develop shingles, while 1 out of 6 individuals who get the disease will experience severe pain that can last for months, or even years. Shingles occurs when varicella zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox, reactivates. Thus, anyone who has had chickenpox in the past is at risk for shingles.
Zostavax , the only shingles vaccine approved for sale in the U.S., is made with a weakened version of the varicella zoster virus. It was initially cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for use in patients age 60 and older. In 2011, the FDA approved use of the vaccine in adults aged 50 through 59 years. 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%.
Plaintiffs began filing Zostavax lawsuits last year year, shortly after the FDA updated its safety label to include information about eye injuries and infections possibly associated with its use. Attorneys representing Zostavax plaintiffs have said that more filings are planned, and have predicted that the litigation involving the shingles vaccine could eventually grow to include hundreds of claims.