Zostavax is a single-shot vaccine for adults who are aged 50 or older that helps in boosting the immune system against shingles (herpes zoster). However, once you have the condition, the drug cannot be used to treat it or the nerve pain that may follow.
It is important to remember that you can develop shingles on any part of your body at any time, so it is a good idea to discuss Zostavax with your doctor or pharmacist if you are at the age when the condition can occur.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a person’s risk for shingles and PHN (postherpetic neuralgia) increases as they get older and recommends that people who are aged 60 and older get Zostavax to prevent both conditions. The vaccine of older people developing shingles by 51% and PHN by 67%.
How does Zostavax work?
It does so by helping the immune system. It is believed that the vaccine does so by giving the immune system a boost so that the virus stays dormant, thereby helping to protect the individual from getting shingles.
The Effectiveness of Zostavax to Prevent Shingles
For people who are aged 60 and older, Zostavax enrolled roughly 38,000 people throughout the US. Of these, about 50% received Zostavax while the other half received a placebo. Participants of the study were followed for an average of about 3 years to see if they developed shingles and if the disease cropped up, how long the pain lasted.
Researchers who conducted the study concluded that overall, the Zostavax vaccine reduced the occurrence of shingles in people aged 60 and older by approximately 50%.
The effect of the vaccine was highest at 64% in people aged between 60 and 69, but the effectiveness declined as the age of the individual increased – to 41% for those aged between 70 to 79 and 18% for those aged 80 and older.
In people who received Zostavax vaccination but still developed shingles, it was found that the duration of pain was slightly shorter compared to those who received a placebo. Specifically, the pain that the group who received the vaccine lasted on average for 20 days and lasted about 22 days for the placebo group. There did not appear to be a difference in the severity of pain among the two groups.
Roughly 22,000 people aged between 50 and 59 were received. Half were given Zostavax while the other half received a placebo.
Participants of the study were then monitored for at least 1 year to see if shingles developed in them. Zostavax lowered the risk of people in this age group developing shingles by about 70% compared to those who received a placebo.
The Dangers of Zostavax
After being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Zostavax was first introduced in the market in May 2006. The company that manufactures this vaccine is Merck & Co. It is essentially a stronger version of Varivax, the chickenpox vaccine also manufactured by Merck.
While it is supposed to protect people from shingles and chickenpox, the problem with Zostavax is that it can actually cause the diseases it is supposed to prevent. Another problem is that the vaccine is only roughly 50% effective in preventing the diseases.
People who have vulnerable or weak immune systems can suffer serious complications if they develop shingles and chickenpox infections. In older patients, there is a significantly higher risk of developing excruciating postherpetic neuralgia (chronic pain) because of damage to nerves in the skin. Shingles can also develop in the eyes and lead to permanent blindness.
Brain Damage: This is a severe complication that develops when there is inflammation in the brain caused by shingles. Also known as encephalitis, this brain inflammation can result in neurological disorders. Some of the symptoms include weakness, issues with balance, hearing problems, stroke, and paralysis.
Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN): As mentioned above, PHN is one of the complications that can occur with shingles. It occurs when the virus that causes shingles damages nerve fibers in the skin, leading to chronic pain. In most cases, the pain that people experience is extremely intense and may also come with a stabbing or burning sensation, causing lifelong disability. PHN occurs in about 1 in 5 people who are affected by shingles.
Bell’s Palsy: This is a type of paralysis occurring in the face when the shingles virus results in inflammation of the nerves that control facial muscles. Some of the symptoms of this condition include drooping facial features, jaw pain, drooling and changes in saliva, tears or the ability to taste.
Myelitis: This condition that involves inflammation of the spinal cord can be caused by shingles infections in the spine. When there is damage to the spinal cord, it can lead to weakness, numbness, pain, abnormal sensations such as tingling, incontinence, and permanent paralysis.
Loss of Vision: As mentioned earlier, the shingles virus can affect the eyes and result in severe inflammation. About 20 to 30% of people with shingles suffer permanent vision loss or blindness as a result. These complications are often caused by necrotizing retinitis or retinal damage.
Loss of Hearing: Approximately 30% of people who develop a rash caused by shingles on their face or around their ears are likely to suffer from persistent loss of hearing or deafness. This complication can be either temporary or permanent, but in most cases, it affects only one ear.
Important Information to Remember About Receiving Zostavax
If you have a weak immune system, active tuberculosis that is not treated, cancer that affects bone marrow or leukemia or if you are pregnant, you should not receive Zostavax. You should also not get the vaccine if you have a history of allergic reaction to neomycin or gelatin.
On the other hand, if you have a minor cold, you can go ahead and receive Zostavax. If you have tuberculosis or any other serious condition with any type of infection or fever, you should wait until you recover before getting the vaccine.
It is important to remember that your health is in much more danger if you become infected with shingles than if you receive this vaccine. However, like many other medications, Zostavax can cause side effects. The judicious news is that there is an extremely low risk of serious side effects, but they can occur.
To make sure that it is safe for you to receive Zostavax, you should tell your doctor if you have:
- If you have never had chickenpox
- If you have received a “live” vaccine within the past month or 4 weeks
- A history of allergic reaction to any type of vaccine
If you notice a rash with an appearance similar to shingles after receiving Zostavax, you should avoid contact with anyone who has never had chickenpox, especially pregnant women, newborn babies, or someone who has a weak immune system.
You should also avoid coming into contact with these people if a rash or any other type of reaction develops where the vaccine was injected into your skin.
You should not receive any other live vaccine for at least 4 weeks after you have received Zostavax because it could cause you to develop a serious infection. Live vaccines include mumps, smallpox, chickenpox (varicella), measles, rubella (MMR), rotovirus, yellow fever, typhoid, influenza (nasal flu), oral polio, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and H1N1 influenza.
You should also not receive Zostavax for the second time if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after you received the first shot. Make sure that you make a note of any and all side effects you experience after you have received the vaccine. If, at any time, you need to receive a booster dose, you should inform your physician about any side effects you experienced in the previous shots.
Side Effects of Zostavax
If you have any signs of an allergic reaction to Zostavax, it is critical that you get emergency medical assistance right away. You should call your doctor immediately if you have:
- Flu symptoms, sore throat, swollen glands, fever
- Painful or severe skin rash
- Breathing problems
- Some of the common side effects of the vaccine include:
- Warmth, pain, redness, swelling, itching or bruising in the site where the shot was administered
- Skin rash
- Muscle or joint pain
There are also serious side effects of Zostavax that you should keep in mind. In very rare cases, people develop a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine – a reaction known as anaphylaxis. Signs of this reaction include:
- Swelling of the face, including the eyes and mouth
- Redness of warmth of the skin
- Difficulties breathing and swallowing
- Slow pulse
- Irregular heartbeat
As mentioned earlier, you should immediately call your doctor or get medical help if you experience any of these symptoms after receiving Zostavax as anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Shingles
In most cases, shingles is diagnosed based on the history of pain that an individual experiences, on one side of their body, along with the occurrence of telltale blisters and rashes. Doctors may also take a scraping of tissue or culture of the blisters to be examined in the laboratory.
There is no cure for shingles. However, the risk of complications from the disease can be reduced and the healing process can be hastened with prompt treatment using prescription antiviral medications, including Valacyclovir (Valtrex) and Acyclovir (Zovirex).
Shingles can result in severe pain, so patients may also be prescribed other medications by their doctor, including:
- Qutenza (capsaicin topical patch)
- Anticonvulsants, like gabapentin
- Numbing agents, like lidocaine, delivered through a gel, cream, skin patch or spray
- Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline
- An injection including local anesthetics and corticosteroids
- Medications containing narcotics, like codeine
In general, shingles lasts between 2 and 6 weeks. Most people develop the disease only once, but there are also cases where people get it 2 or more times.
Preparing for Your Doctor’s Appointment for Shingles
In some cases, people experience only very mild symptoms of shingles and as a result, they do not seek the medical attention they need. At the other extreme, when people experience severe symptoms, it may result in a visit to the emergency department.
What You Can Do
Before you see a doctor or go to the emergency department, it is a fantastic idea to write a list that includes the following:
- A detailed description of the symptoms you experienced or are experiencing
- Information about your past and current medical issues
- Information about your family’s medical history
- All of the medications, dietary supplements, and vitamins you take
You can make the most of your limited time with your health care provider by preparing a list of questions ahead of time. It is a judicious idea to list your questions from the most important to the least in case your time with your doctor runs out. Some basic questions to ask your healthcare provider about shingles, including:
- What is the most likely reason I have these symptoms?
- How long will these symptoms last?
- Why did I develop shingles? Can I get it again?
- What is the recommended treatment? How long will it take for me to start feeling better?
- What will happen if my symptoms do not improve?
- Are there any printed materials, like brochures, that I can take with me to learn about shingles? Are there any websites that you recommend?
Aside from the questions that you have listed beforehand, do not hesitate to ask your health care provider any additional questions that may come to mind during your appointment.
What to Expect From Your Doctor
Your health care provider will examine your rash or blister and may ask you a few questions, such as:
- When did you first begin to experience your symptoms?
- Is there anything that makes them better or worse?
- Have you ever had chickenpox?
It is important to prepare yourself for your doctor’s appointment when it comes to shingles. Preparing a list of questions and providing your health care provider with information as mentioned above can be helpful, both for you and your doctor.
Who Should Not Receive the Shingles Vaccine?
As mentioned above, there are certain people or certain cases where the shingles vaccine should not be given. These include the following:
- People who suffer from a sudden severe illness that is accompanied by fever – in such cases, the patient should postpone getting the vaccine until after they have recovered from the illness.
- People who have had an allergic reaction in the past to a vaccine for chickenpox
- People who have had a serious allergic reaction in the past to the antibiotic neomycin
- People with a severely weakened immune system which is unable to fight infection, for example, as a result of diseases like lymphoma, leukemia, HIV, or immunodeficiency syndromes
- People who have recently received or currently receiving treatment that suppresses immune system activity, for example, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, high-dose corticosteroids, or immune-suppressants, e.g., to prevent rejection of an organ transplant
- Women who are pregnant
- People who have an active tuberculosis infection that has not been treated
- Children or adolescents, or to prevent chickenpox
Filing a Zostavax Lawsuit
Because Zostavax causes a number of side effects and complications, many people who have received the vaccine have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer, Merck & Co. In their claims, plaintiffs alleged that the company failed to adequately warn patients and/or healthcare providers about the risk of injuries that the vaccine can cause.
They claimed that Merck & Co. knew and had reason to know that the vaccine that they manufactured was inherently defective and that it was unreasonably dangerous as designed, formulated and manufactured by the company, and when it is used and administered in the form that the vaccine is manufactured and distributed, as well as in the manner that the company instructed to use and administer it to patients.
Deadline for Filing a Zostavax Lawsuit
You should keep in mind that there is a specific deadline for filing a Zostavax shingles vaccine lawsuit – these deadlines are known as ‘statute of limitations’ and they vary from one state to another. To find out information about the specific time restrictions in your state for filing a Zostavax lawsuit, you should go online or talk to an attorney who deals with dangerous drug lawsuits.
It is important to contact a personal injury attorney experienced in dangerous drug cases and get started on your case as soon as possible. One of the decisions you need to make before filing a claim is whether you want to join a class action lawsuit or file an individual claim.
Your attorney must do a thorough review of your medical records to find out if you have a viable claim and can file a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the vaccine.
For a number of years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been receiving reports of adverse side effects that patients suffered after receiving Zostavax, including shingles.
As you have read earlier, the effects of shingles infections can be serious, long-term, and even life-threatening, depending on where the virus spreads. Although injuries typically occur within the first 0 to six months after patients have received the Zostavax vaccine, there have also been reports of long-term injuries, such as neurological damage.
Damages for Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Lawsuits
When you file a Zostavax shingles vaccine lawsuit, you may be able to receive financial compensation for damages like medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, permanent disability and the treatment and therapy costs that come with it, wrongful death and much more.
The amount of compensation you obtain depends largely on the severity of the injuries that you suffered as a result of the vaccine and the expenses you have incurred due to your injuries.
The amount of damages you recover may also depend on whether you join a class action suit or file an individual lawsuit against the manufacturer. While a class action lawsuit does have many benefits, you can file an individual Zostavax shingles vaccine lawsuit to increase your chance of obtaining a greater financial compensation or settlement.
You can discuss your options with your attorney and find out if you should join a class action suit or file a Zostavax lawsuit on your own. Your lawyer is the best person to help you decide the best course of action.
If you have lost a loved one due to complications caused by Zostavax, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer for not providing adequate warnings about the risks of the vaccine. You can sue for damages such as loss of consortium, emotional distress, funeral and burial costs, and this list continues.
Secure Legal Assistance for a Zostavax Shingles Vaccine Lawsuit
If you or a loved one has suffered serious harm or injury as a result of Zostavax, you should immediately seek the help of a reliable and proven attorney with knowledge about dealing with cases like yours.
You can get a free case evaluation for the attorney to review your case and determine if you have a viable case. If you do, you can begin the first steps to file a Zostavax shingles vaccine lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug.
Depending on your case, your legal professional will decide if you should join a class action lawsuit or a file an individual lawsuit. The goal is to make sure that the company that manufactured the drug is held liable for the injuries you or your loved one suffered and that you receive fair financial compensation for damages.
The side effects of the vaccine can have a devastating impact on your life and may require long-term medical treatment and care. This is why you should not hesitate to consult an attorney as soon as possible if you have been harmed by a Zostavax vaccine.