Glaxo Vaccine Suit Settled- 2003

Glaxo settles Lyme disease vaccine suit

Hundreds of thousands of people nationwide who received the Lyme disease vaccine have received what lawyers labeled an impressive settlement.

But if you are one of the recipients of Lymerix shots, don't bother looking for a check in the mail.

The benefits from an agreement finalized last week with the vaccine's manufacturer, SmithKline Beecham Corp., now GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C., are not monetary - unless you are one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, who will split more than $1 million.

Stephen A. Sheller, a Philadelphia lawyer involved in the half dozen class-action lawsuits filed in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said the case was never about "putting hundreds of millions of dollars" in plaintiffs' pockets, it was about public safety.

"Our goal was to warn the public about the vaccine," Sheller said.

The cases were consolidated in Chester County because so many people had received the vaccine there, Sheller said. The plaintiffs were identified as "all individuals who have been administered the Lyme disease vaccine, commonly known as Lymerix."

Sheller said the impetus for the suits, filed in 1999 and 2000, came from worried doctors.

"The doctors are the heroes here," Sheller said, adding that the suits' primary objective was to obtain warning labels about the vaccine's possible side effects.

But Glaxo withdrew the vaccine from the market in February 2002, making that goal moot.

At the time, a company spokeswoman said hundreds of thousands were vaccinated in 1999, and only 10,000 were expected to get the shots in 2002, too few to cover the manufacturing and marketing costs.

"We discontinued the product for commercial reasons, not because of the litigation," Danielle Halstrom, Glaxo's director of product communications, said.

Halstrom called the allegations about the vaccine's side effects "scientifically unfounded" and said Glaxo executives stand by the the drug's safety. She said the company's attorney was unavailable for comment on the settlement.

Sheller said tests have shown that the genetic makeup of 25 to 30 percent of the population makes them susceptible to treatment-resistant arthritis if they receive the vaccine, a finding disputed by the Centers for Disease Control.

More than 500 vaccine recipients have reported complications, Sheller said. The settlement does not prevent those people from pursuing personal-injury suits against Glaxo, he said, adding that many are pending.

Sheller said the settlement award - attorneys' fees of $926,250 and costs of $137,997 - was not an easy sell for Chester County Judge Jacqueline C. Cody, who presided over the case.

"Judge Cody was right for scrutinizing the settlement," Sheller said. "She was protecting the interests of the public."

In a footnote to the settlement order, Cody said she had "unanswered concerns regarding the size of the award of counsel fees in relation to the outcome of the litigation." In addition, she questioned the efficiency of "having 34 professionals handle a single case."

Cody, who had reduced the award by five percent before approving it, said her concerns were not allayed when a truck appeared at the courthouse loading dock on May 31, filled with the plaintiffs' files.

Sheller said he wanted to make sure the judge knew how much work had gone into the case.

"The wasteful expense of such a grandstanding gesture is precisely the type of abuse that casts doubt on the documented hours and expenses of dedicated professionals of high integrity," Cody wrote.

Sheller said the truck didn't cost a dime because the delivery was late.

The plaintiffs named in the suit could not be reached for comment.

Lyme disease, which was named after the Connecticut town where it was discovered in the 1970s, is transmitted mainly by deer ticks. It creates symptoms that include fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. Untreated, it can cause serious medical problems, including arthritis, facial palsy and encephalitis.

In 1999, 16,273 cases of Lyme disease were reported to the CDC. Ninety-two percent of these were from the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.

Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or

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POSTED: July 09, 2003