The lawsuit was filed by Jorja Bentley, a woman from Nevada who received the Zostavax vaccine in November 2014. Within 24 hours, she developed a headache, dizziness, and blurred vision. She continues to suffer injuries to her right eye and high blood pressure.
Her lawyers accuse Merck & Co. of putting profits above public safety by downplaying the risk of Zostavax causing viral infections and other devastating complications.
Zostavax is a vaccine that was approved in 2006 to prevent shingles in adults over 60 years old. It is essentially the same shot as Merck’s Varivax chickenpox vaccine for children, but Zostavax is about 14-times stronger than Varivax.
Even so, Zostavax only works in about 50% of patients. In clinical trials, shingles occurred in 1.7% of Zostavax patients, vs. 3.3% of un-vaccinated adults over 60.
The other problem is that Zostavax contains a live virus. The virus is weakened, but it can still trigger major infections instead of a mild immune response. In 2014, the FDA ordered Merck to add “shingles” to the list of Zostavax side effects, and strengthen warnings about “infections and infestations” with the vaccine’s virus.
Most people are surprised to learn that Zostavax can cause shingles or chickenpox, the exact same diseases it is supposed to prevent. The risk is far lower than getting shingles if you had chickenpox as a child, but infections can be devastating — especially in older adults.
Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella).
When a child gets chickenpox or the vaccine, the virus stays in their body forever. After many years, the virus re-activates in about 33% of patients and causes shingles.
Shingles is an excruciatingly painful skin rash with blisters. The rash clears up in 2-3 weeks, but about 20% of patients suffer chronic pain due to Post-Herpetic Neuralgia.
Other complications include blindness, deafness, brain damage, and death. Studies also show a doubled increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the first few weeks after an outbreak.
The lawsuit was filed on February 22, 2017 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas — Jorja Bentley v. Merck & Co., Inc. et al. — Case No. 161004102.