What is Zostavax?

Zostavax (zoster vaccine live) is designed to protect adults ages 50 and older from shingles. It is manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck and is usually given in a doctor’s office or pharmacy. Adults receiving the vaccine are receiving a dose of the weakened chicken pox virus. It is intended to boost the immune system’s protection against herpes zoster, also known as shingles.

Shingles are caused by the same virus as the chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus). After children get the chickenpox, the virus retreats and lies dormant in the body for years. The virus will reactivate years later in nearly 30 percent of adults in the U.S. and cause shingles.

Shingles is a painful, itchy rash that often occurs on only one side of the body. Doctors are not sure why the virus can reactivate in adulthood, but some people choose to get vaccinated against the virus to decrease their chances.

Despite being the first shingles vaccine approved by the FDA, Zostavax is not the preferred vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Zostavax shingles vaccine is only shown to be about 51 percent effective.

The CDC prefers a newer vaccine called Shingrix over Zostavax. Shingrix is shown to be up to 91 percent effective, compared to Zostavax’s 51-percent effectiveness. While shingles is rarely a life-threatening condition, it can potentially lead to dangerous complications. These complications can include postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)—severe pain where the shingles rash developed, which can be debilitating and last for several weeks to months, possibly even years.

Zostavax does help protect against PHN, with clinical trials showing the vaccine reduced the risk of PHN by about 67 percent, but Shingrix still protected against PHN better than Zostavax, reducing the risk by over 90 percent.

In addition to PHN, shingles pose a risk for other serious complications. Adults who develop shingles may be at risk for:

  • Vision Loss
  • Pneumonia
  • Hearing Loss
  • Blindness
  • Brain Damage
  • Inflammation
  • Death

Adults with a weakened immune system and other risk factors may be at an increased risk for developing shingles. Adults who have had chickenpox may be more likely to develop shingles if they:

  • Have a disease that lowers the body’s immune defenses such as HIV or cancer
  • Are 50 years of age or older
  • Are under a lot of stress
  • Have had physical trauma
  • Are taking long-term medications that can weaken the immune system, such as steroids

Zostavax Linked to Complications

Zostavax may cause harmful side effects, the most common of which occurs near the injection site. These adverse effects can include redness, painful itching, swelling, a hard lump, warmth, bruising, and headache.

Zostavax Health Issues

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Demyelinating Polyneuropathy
  • Bell’s Palsy
  • Brain Inflammation
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Encephalitis
  • Hearing loss
  • Herpetic Neuralgia
  • Myelitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Postherpetic neuralgia
  • Stroke
  • Vasculitis

Zostavax Lawsuit Case Criteria

  • Plaintiffs must have received a Zostavax vaccine after 2006 and have been diagnosed with shingles
  • Plaintiffs must have experienced shingles at least 3 weeks after the vaccination date but within a year of receiving Zostavax.
  • Plaintiffs must have experienced a Zostavax side effect injury within two years of getting vaccinated with Zostavax.

Zostavax Lawsuit

Zostavax was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to prevent shingles in people 60 years of age or older, and later in adults 50 years of age or older. Thousands of people have received Zostavax since it came to the market, and many of them have since filed lawsuits against the manufacturer after they experienced adverse reactions.

More than a hundred Zostavax lawsuits have been filed in federal court and consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District. The lawsuits accuse Merck of manufacturing a defective product and failing to warn about its risks. Zostavax lawsuits continue to be filed in federal and state courts around the country.

Patients who have received the Zostavax vaccine and later developed shingles or other serious complications will need experienced dangerous drug attorneys to help them find financial compensation. Broughton Partners can help your law firm find potential clients who have suffered severe side effects and need help to hold the responsible parties accountable.

May 2006

Zostavax was approved by the FDA for use in individuals 50 to 59 years of age.

August 2014

The FDA ordered Merck to add shingles to the drug’s list of potential side effects.

August 2018

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation approved Merck’s request to consolidate the pending Zostavax cases. Judge Harvey Bartle III of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is overseeing the MDL.


FDA. “Zostavax (Herpes Zoster Vaccine) Questions and Answers”, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed May 20, 2019.

CDC. “What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed May 20, 2019.

CDC. “What Everyone Should Know About Shingles Vaccines”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed May 20, 2019.

WebMd. “How is Shingrix different from Zostavax?”, WebMD. Accessed May 20, 2019.

RxList. “Zostavax” RxList. Accessed May 20, 2019.

NVIC. “Can Shingles Vaccine Cause Injury and Death?”, National Vaccine Information Center. Accessed May 20, 2019.