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Merck Files Motion to Consolidate Zostavax Lawsuits in Florida

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Merck & Co., Inc., makers of the shingles vaccine Zostavax, recently filed a motion to transfer all Zostavax lawsuits to one court for coordinated pre-trial proceedings. There are currently nearly 60 lawsuits pending in Federal District courts around the country, involving plaintiffs who claim they suffered serious injuries after getting the Zostavax vaccination.

Merck has requested the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida as the preferred location for the Zostavax MDL.

Merck Says that All Zostavax Lawsuits Contain Common Questions of Fact

In its motion to consolidate Merck asserts that there “now exists a critical need for coordination of pretrial proceedings to avoid duplicative, burdensome discovery of the defendants and perhaps experts, and inconsistent rulings on nearly identical pretrial motions.”

The company also claims that, though the facts pertaining to the individual plaintiffs may vary, there are common issues related to the design, approval, manufacture, and marketing of Zostavax and Merck’s knowledge of adverse effects alleged to be caused by the vaccine. Transfer of all cases to one central court, then, they believe will promote the just and efficient conduct of the actions.

The first Zostavax lawsuit was filed on August 29, 2016, and the most recent on April 18, 2018. The cases are currently pending in nine Federal District courts before 21 different judges.

Plaintiffs claim they were injured by the live, attenuated herpes zoster virus contained in Zostavax—the virus that causes both chickenpox and shingles. They also claim that Merck was aware of the dangers, and failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks.

Zostavax Linked with Serious Side Effects

In 2014, the FDA required Merck to add “infections and infestations” as possible side effects to the drug label because the vaccine was found to actually cause shingles in some people. Those with compromised immune systems may be at a higher risk. A 2011 study found that immunized individuals also remained a potential source of transmission.

Zostavax has also been linked with serious eye disorders. The FDA required Merck to add a warning to the label about this risk in 2016, as they had received reports of patients taking the vaccine suffering from necrotizing retinitis and keratitis, both inflammatory conditions caused by the herpes virus.

CDC Recommends New Virus Considered More Effective

On May 25, 2006, the FDA approved Zostavax for use in preventing shingles in people 60 and older. The vaccine contains a small amount of the live virus, which helps to boost immunity against the actual disease. In 2011, the FDA approved the vaccine for use in those 50-59, as well.

Zostavax has long been the only vaccine available for shingles until recently, when the FDA approved a new shingles vaccine named “Shingrix.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that adults 50 and over get the Shingrix vaccine instead of Zostavax, because it’s more effective, the effects last longer, and it contains a dead (rather than a live) version of the virus, which is considered less likely to cause side effects.

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