Zostavax Complications and Side Effects

People taking the Zostavax medication have reported experiencing some of the following complications and side effects:

  • shingles (or, the virus that Zostavax was meant to prevent),
  • rash,
  • hives,
  • fever,
  • nausea,
  • headache, and
  • joint and muscle pain.

In addition, thousands of Zostavax lawsuits have been filed against the drug's manufacturer Merck & Co Inc. Pharmaceuticals since 2016. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that, in addition to the above complications, the medication causes:

  • neurological diseases or disorders, like brain inflammation (or encephalitis) and brain damage,
  • spinal cord inflammation (or myelitis),
  • hearing loss,
  • blindness,
  • liver damage and liver failure, and
  • neuropathy.

Zostavax may also cause immunocompromised patients to develop shingles.

The medicine is not recommended for people under the age of 50. In addition, the drug is not recommended for the following two categories of people:

  1. persons who have experienced a life-threatening reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or any other component of the shingles vaccine, and
  2. persons with a weakened immune system due to certain conditions.

Today, the drug Shingrix is the preferred medication to help patients aged 50 and older avoid shingle complications.

Our national mass tort lawsuit attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

3d graphic of herpes zoster virus
Herpes Zoster Virus

1. What are the complications and side effects associated with Zostavax?

The Food and Drug Administration reports that the following side effects and complications are associated with taking the Zostavax medicine:

  • shingles,
  • chickenpox,
  • rash,
  • hives,
  • headache,
  • fever,
  • nausea,
  • joint pain,
  • muscle pain, and
  • eye disorders.1

Persons that suffer adverse effects from taking this drug should call 9-1-1 in emergency situations. If no emergency exists, parties should contact their physician or doctor. In addition, adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

2. What are the complications alleged by the plaintiffs in the Zostavax lawsuits?

Thousands of Zostavax lawsuits have been filed against the drug's manufacturer Merck & Co Inc. Pharmaceuticals since 2016. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that, in addition to the above complications, the medication causes:

  • neurological diseases or disorders, like brain inflammation (or encephalitis) and brain damage,
  • spinal cord inflammation (or myelitis),
  • hearing loss,
  • blindness,
  • liver damage and liver failure,
  • neuropathy, and
  • postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

2.1. What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a rare form of acute brain inflammation.2 Symptoms common to the condition include:

  • fever,
  • headache,
  • drowsiness,
  • lethargy,
  • coma, and
  • stiffness in the neck and back.3

Encephalitis can be very serious. In extreme cases, it can cause brain damage and death.

Further, treatment of the affliction can be difficult. Patients require extensive care with ongoing monitoring of their heart and respiratory system. Treatment also involves precise management of a person's fluid and electrolyte balances.4

2.2. What is brain damage?

Brain damage involves the destruction or deterioration of a person's brain cells.5

Most Zostavax cases involving brain damage pertain to acquired brain injuries. These injuries are associated with pressure on the brain and may result from a neurological illness (as with a stroke).6

Symptoms of brain damage can include:

  • difficulty processing information,
  • shortened attention span,
  • balance issues,
  • heightened sensitivity to pain,
  • paralysis,
  • seizures,
  • slurred speech,
  • impatience, and
  • sluggishness.7

The ultimate extent and effect of brain damage is determined by a neurological exam and the following are often required for long-term recovery:

  • physical therapy,
  • occupational therapy,
  • speech and language therapy, and
  • psychological support.8

2.3. What is myelitis?

Myelitis is inflammation of the spinal cord. The condition can alter both:

  1. the normal responses from a person's brain to his body, and
  2. responses from the rest of a person's body to his brain.9

Transverse myelitis is the most common type of myelitis and it can cause:

  • pain,
  • muscle weakness,
  • paralysis,
  • sensory problems, and
  • bladder or bowel dysfunction.10

Treatment typically involves medications and rehabilitative therapy. Most people that suffer from the condition recover at least partially. Severe cases of myelitis can lead to major disabilities.11

lady suffering from hearing loss
If Zostavax causes a person to suffer from hearing loss, the condition typically cannot be reversed

2.4. What is hearing loss?

There are three types of hearing loss. These are:

  1. conductive, which involves the outer or middle ear,
  2. sensorineural, which involves the inner ear, and
  3. mixed, which involves a combination of the first two above.12

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • muffling of speech and sounds,
  • difficulty understanding words,
  • asking others to speak more slowly,
  • withdrawal from conversations, and
  • avoidance of social settings.13

If Zostavax does cause a person to suffer from hearing loss, the condition typically cannot be reversed. However, a hearing specialist can take steps to limit the loss and hearing aids may be used to restore hearing abilities.14

2.5. What is blindness?

Blindness refers to a lack of vision. A person can be either partially blind (having limited vision) or completely blind (having no sight whatsoever).15

Signs of having low or limited vision include having trouble with:

  • driving,
  • reading, and
  • doing small tasks.16

Physicians can assist patients in finding specialists to treat vision problems. A team approach is often required to treat this condition. Some of the specialists that may be required in cases of vision loss are:

  • ophthalmologists,
  • optometrists,
  • physical therapists, and
  • occupational therapists.17

2.6 What is liver damage and liver failure?

Liver disease includes both liver damage and liver failure. Zostavax has allegedly been associated with both.

The signs and symptoms of liver disease include:

  • jaundice, or skin and eyes appearing yellowish,
  • abdominal pain and swelling,
  • swelling in the ankles and legs,
  • itchy skin, and
  • dark urine.18

Liver damage can eventually lead to liver failure, which itself is life-threatening. Treatment for liver disease depends on a person's diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, while other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.19

Treatment for liver disease that causes or has led to liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.20

2.7. What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy, also referred to as peripheral neuropathy, is when damage occurs to a person's peripheral nerves.21

A person's peripheral nervous system sends information from his brain and spinal cord to the rest of his body.

Neuropathy may cause:

  • weakness, and
  • numbness and pain (usually in a person's hands or feet).22

The pain associated with the condition is usually stabbing, burning, or tingling.23

In many cases of neuropathy, symptoms improve over time. Medications can reduce the pain that the affliction causes.24

patient holding physician's hand
Zostavax is a live virus, which means a weakened form of the shingles virus is injected into a patient's body

3. What should immunocompromised patients know?

Immunocompromised means that a person's body has:

  1. a weakened immune system, and
  2. is unable to fight off even a weakened form of a virus.

Zostavax is a live virus, which means a weakened form of the shingles virus is injected into a patient's body. Since an immunocompromised patient has difficulty combatting weakened forms of a virus, these patients may actually develop shingles.

4. Is there anyone that should not take Zostavax?

Zostavax was designed for patients aged 50 and over. Therefore, it is recommended that persons under the age of 50 should not take the medication.

In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following two categories of persons should not take the drug:

  1. people who have ever experienced a life-threatening or severe allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of shingles vaccine, and
  2. persons who have a weakened immune system because of:
  • HIV/Aids or another disease that affects the immune system,
  • treatment with drugs that affect the immune system (e.g., steroids),
  • cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy, or
  • cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma.25

Please also note that women should not become pregnant until at least four weeks after getting Zostavax.26

In addition, people with a minor illness, like the flu, may be vaccinated with the drug. But, people with a moderate to severe illness should wait before taking Zostavax until they recover from their sickness. 27

5. Are there other vaccines, besides Zostavax, that help prevent shingles?

Shingrix is another vaccine that is aimed to prevent a person from experiencing shingles.

The CDC states that Shingrix is the preferred drug over Zostavax. CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older should get two doses of Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months, to best fight off the Shingles illness.28

According to CDC:

  • two doses of Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, and
  • protection stays above 85% for at least the first four years after a patient gets vaccinated.29

In one trial that involved more than 15,000 patients (aged 50 or older), Shingrix's efficacy for preventing Shingles was greater than 95% versus 51% efficacy for Zostavax.30 In a companion trial that included almost 14,000 patients (aged 70 or older), efficacy was about 90%.31

Did you experience an injury or adverse condition after taking Zostavax? Call us for help…

zostavax legal advisors
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has experienced an injury or adverse effect upon taking the Zostavax vaccine, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. It is important to bring these claims before the statute of limitations has expired. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Zostavax.” FDA website.

  2. Brain Inflammation: Symptoms, Causes, How to Reduce It,” BeBrainFit.com.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. Brain Damage: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments,” WebMD.com.

  6. See same.

  7. See same.

  8. See same.

  9. Transverse Myelitis,” Mayo Clinic website.

  10. See same.

  11. See same.

  12. Hearing Loss,” Mayo Clinic website.

  13. See same.

  14. See same.

  15. Blindness and Vision Loss,” MedlinePlus.com.

  16. See same.

  17. Vision Loss,” familydoctor.org.

  18. Liver Disease,” Mayo Clinic website.

  19. See same.

  20. See same.

  21. Peripheral Neuropathy,” Mayo Clinic website.

  22. See same.

  23. See same.

  24. See same.

  25. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax.” CDC website.

  26. See same.

  27. See same.

  28. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Shingrix.” CDC website.

  29. See same.

  30. Abigail Zuger, MD, “New Shingles Vaccine is Here!” New England Journal of Medicine.

  31. See same.

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