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Merck Employees File Whistleblower Mumps Vaccine Lawsuit

June 26, 2012 — Two former employees of Merck & Co. have filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Merck overstated the effectiveness of its mumps vaccine, which the U.S. government has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to buy. Merck says that the lawsuits is “completely without merit,” noting that the U.S. Department of Justice failed to find fault with the drug-maker after a two-year investigation.

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed in 2010 by two former Merck virologists, Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski. They alleged that Merck hid information that the mumps vaccine had become less effective, and therefore defrauded the U.S. government, which has purchased the vaccine for the last 10 years. The employees claim that the vaccine was actually less effective than Merck claimed.

The lawsuit was recently made public after the Department of Justice concluded their two-year investigation by declining to participate in the case. It was initially filed in 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The mumps vaccine was first introduced 45 years ago, but it is now usually sold in combination with the measles vaccine and rubella vaccine, called the MMR vaccine. The CDC recommends this vaccine for most children during childhood. It prevents the mumps disease, which is a highly contagious viral infection that causes swelling of the salivary glands, fever, and headache. Since use of the vaccine has become widespread, the incidence of mumps is very rare, although there were outbreaks in 2006 and 2009.

Merck stresses that this whistleblower lawsuit has nothing to do with the safety of the mumps vaccine. “It’s important to understand that none of the allegations in the complaint relate to the safety of M-M-R II and we remain confident that M-M-R II helps protect against measles, mumps and rubella as described in the labeling for the vaccine,” the company said.

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