Zostavax Side Effects

Merck's shingles vaccine is recommended for adults ages 60 years and older, but it may cause them serious harm. Lawsuits allege the Zostavax vaccine caused shingles, eye disorders, liver failure, and even death.

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Zostavax Side Effects

Shingles and eye disorders, the FDA says, are potential side effects of Zostavax.

The popular shingles vaccine Zostavax may be linked to a number of side effects, including shingles, loss of vision, neurological disorders, and even death. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for anyone 60 years or older. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that Zostavax is only 50% effective in preventing the shingles virus.

What Is the Zostavax Vaccine?

The Zostavax vaccine became the first available vaccine for herpes zoster (commonly referred to as shingles) in the U.S. when it was approved by the FDA in 2006. Zostavax manufacturer Merck reports that the vaccine has been administered more than 36 million times in the last 10 years.

The vaccination is approved by the FDA for people 50 years and older, but the CDC only recommends routine use in people 60 years and older.

Shingles causes a painful rash or blisters along one side of the body. The virus is caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster), which can become active after years of lying dormant in nerve tissue. The dormant virus can reactivate when the immune system is weakened due to age or illness, long after the patient first contracted chickenpox.

Does Zostavax Contain the Live Virus?

The Zostavax vaccine uses a weakened strain of the varicella zoster virus (chickenpox) to activate the immune system. By fighting the weakened strain, the immune system can build immunity to the virus.

For patients who have suppressed immune systems due to diseases like cancer or AIDS, even a weakened version of the virus can cause serious harm.

The virus used in the Zostavax vaccine is 14 times stronger than that used for the chickenpox vaccination. Most patients are able to successfully fight the virus off without feeling any side effects. However, for patients who have suppressed immune systems due to diseases like cancer or AIDS, even a weakened version of the virus can cause serious harm.

The CDC also warns that pregnant women and patients with allergies to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin should not receive the Zostavax vaccine.

What are the Side Effects of Zostavax?

The FDA reports the following possible Zostavax side effects:

  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Eye disorders, including necrotizing retinitis

How Do I Know If I Have Shingles?

Shingles is just one of the unwelcome side effects of the Zostavax vaccine. The virus can cause debilitating pain and discomfort, which is why patients typically receive the vaccine in the first place.

The first sign of shingles is usually pain, itching, or tingling on one side of the body or face. Soon after, a rash will appear. The shingles rash typically blisters and scabs over within 7 to 10 days, and will completely clear within two to four weeks.

In addition to a rash, other shingles symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset Stomach

In some cases, the virus can result in lasting complications, like eye damage and lingering pain called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can remain for months or even years after the shingles rash has cleared.

Can Zostavax Cause Vision Problems?

In February 2016, FDA required Merck to add eye disorders, including necrotizing retinitis, to the list of potential side effects for Zostavax.

Necrotizing retinitis is an inflammation of the eye that is associated with chickenpox and shingles. It is commonly found in patients who are immunocompromised.

Necrotizing retinitis can cause pain, floaters, flashes, blurred vision, and redness of the eye.

If not treated, keratitis can cause permanent vision loss.

Researchers at the University of Missouri have also linked the shingles vaccine to keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea. They found 20 cases of keratitis within one month of patients receiving the chickenpox and shingles vaccinations.

Keratitis can cause pain, redness, excess tears, blurred or decreased vision, and difficulty opening eyes. If not treated, it can cause permanent vision loss.

Are There Other Complications Connected to Zostavax?

Lawsuits allege that the Zostavax vaccine resulted in even more serious complications than those recognized by the FDA above, including death. These include:

  • Serious neurological disorders, including brain inflammation (encephalitis)
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
  • Bell’s Palsy
  • Vision problems, including: blindness, eye infections, and retinal damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Autoimmune disorders: Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, Meniere’s Disease, etc.
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular event
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Vasculitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Death

These complications echo what the adverse event data for the shingles vaccine says. One complaint states that between 1990 and September 1, 2015, 1,141 reports (including 90 deaths) were made to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System for shingles vaccines.

Lawsuits filed against Merck accuse the company of failing to warn of the vaccination's potential side effects, and of “intentionally, willfully, and knowingly misrepresenting” its safety.

Need Legal Advice?

If you or a loved one were injured by the Zostavax vaccine, you may be eligible for a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Merck. A lawsuit can help recover damages for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

ClassAction.com has the experience and resources to take on big pharmaceutical companies like Merck. Our attorneys have recovered more than $5 billion for our clients (200,000 and counting).

If you or a loved one suffered serious complications after receiving the shingles vaccine—such as shingles, vision problems, neurological disorders, or even death—contact us immediately for a free, no-obligation legal review. It costs nothing unless we win a trial award or settlement for you.