If you had the chickenpox as a child, you’re at risk for getting shingles as an adult. Nearly 1 in 3 adults in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus that presents as a painful, itchy rash and shooting pain. It can happen without warning and often affects only one side of the body.
Since it is such an unpredictable condition, people often get vaccinated to decrease their chances of getting shingles. There are a few vaccines on the market, the first of which was Zostavax. Zostavax is designed to prevent shingles, but many people who got the vaccine still wound up with the condition or suffered more severe complications. Now, Zostavax manufacturer Merck is facing dozens of lawsuits accusing the company of making a defective product.
Zostavax was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to prevent shingles in people 60 years of age or older, and later in adults 50 years of age or older. Thousands of people have received Zostavax since it came on the market, and the many of them have since filed lawsuits against the manufacturer after they experienced adverse reactions.
More than a hundred Zostavax lawsuits have been filed in federal court and consolidated in multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District. The lawsuits accuse Merck of manufacturing a defective product and failing to warn about its risks. Zostavax lawsuits continue to be filed in federal and state courts around the country.
If you or a loved one received the Zostavax vaccine and later developed shingles or other serious complications, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The experienced lawyers at The Eichholz Law Firm can help you navigate the legal process if you qualify for a claim.
About Shingles and the Zostavax Vaccine
Zostavax (zoster vaccine live) is designed to protect adults ages 50 and older from shingles. It is manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck and is usually given in a doctor’s office or pharmacy. Adults receiving the vaccine are actually receiving a dose of weakened chicken pox virus. It is intended to boost the immune system’s protection against herpes zoster, also known as shingles.
Shingles are caused by the same virus as the chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus). After children get the chickenpox, the virus retreats and lies dormant in the body for years. In nearly 30 percent of adults in the US, the virus will reactivate years later and cause shingles.
Shingles is a painful, itchy rash that often occurs on only one side of the body. Doctors are not sure why the virus can reactivate in adulthood, but some people choose to get vaccinated against the virus to decrease their chances.
Despite being the first shingles vaccine approved by the FDA, Zostavax is not the preferred vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zostavax shingles vaccine is only shown to be about 51 percent effective.
The CDC prefers a newer vaccine called Shingrix over Zostavax. Shingrix is shown to be up to 91 percent effective, compared to Zostavax’s 51-percent effectiveness. Though shingles is rarely a life-threatening condition, it can potentially lead to dangerous complications. These complications can include postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)—severe pain where the shingles rash developed, which can be debilitating and last for several weeks to months, possibly even years.
Zostavax does help protect against PHN, with clinical trials showing the vaccine reduced the risk of PHN by about 67 percent, but Shingrix still protected against PHN better than Zostavax, reducing the risk by over 90 percent.
In addition to PHN, shingles poses a risk for other serious complications. Adults who develop shingles may be at risk for:
- vision loss
- hearing loss
- brain damage
Adults with a weakened immune system and other risk factors may be at an increased risk for developing shingles. If you had the chickenpox, you may be more likely to develop shingles if:
- You have a disease the lowers your body’s immune defenses such as HIV or cancer
- You are 50 years of age or older
- You are under a lot of stress
- You have had physical trauma
- You are taking long-term medications that can weaken your immune system such as steroids
Zostavax Side Effects
Zostavax may cause possible side effects, the most common of which occur near the injection site. These adverse effects can include redness, pain itching, swelling, a hard lump, warmth, bruising, and headache.
Other possible side of effects of Zostavax include:
- Allergic reactions - these can be serious and may cause difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Hives at the injection site
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Rash, including at the injection site
- Swollen glands near the injection site that can last a few days to a few weeks
It’s possible for some individuals to develop a mild, chickenpox-like rash near the injection site after Zostavax. This rash should be covered until it disappears as a precaution. There are no recorded incidents of people getting chickenpox from someone who just received the shingles vaccine. It is safe to be around infants, young children, women who are pregnant, and people with weakened immune systems.
If you develop any of the possible side effects of Zostavax, it’s important to seek medical advice and speak to a doctor about your symptoms.