Individuals who took Alesse birth control pills between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 30, 2019, could be eligible to take part in a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers. (Black Press Media files)

Individuals who took Alesse birth control pills between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 30, 2019, could be eligible to take part in a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers. (Black Press Media files)

B.C. judge certifies class action against manufacturers of Alesse birth control pills

Two plaintiffs came before the court after becoming pregnant despite taking their Alesse birth control pills

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has certified a lawsuit against the makers of Alesse birth control pills after they were found to have too little estrogen to be effective.

Two plaintiffs came before the court after becoming pregnant despite taking their Alesse birth control pills as instructed. Alesse is manufactured by Pfizer Canada Inc. and Wyeth Canada and comes in 21-pill packs or 28-pill packs. Each includes 21 “active” pills, with hormones. In the 28-pack, seven inactive pills are included to allow a break in hormones.

The plaintiffs

Taylor MacKinnon, said she had been taking the pills since 2014 in order to prevent pregnancy.

On Dec. 6, 2017, MacKinnon was notified by her pharmacist of a Health Canada advisory that found that two lots of Alesse contained an active pill that was half the proper size.

“Broken or smaller-than-normal birth control pills may deliver a smaller dose of the active drug ingredient, which could reduce its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy,” the advisory stated.

However, the advisory only warned against pills that were smaller or broken, not ones that looked normal. MacKinnon checked her 21-pack, which she had purchased on Oct. 22, 2017, but it was not from one of the lots noted in the advisory.

On Dec. 16, she took a pregnancy tests that came back positive. The next day, she went to a doctor and was told she was just over five weeks pregnant.

MacKinnon said despite phoning Health Canada and Pfizer, the makers of Alesse, she did not get any further information. She gave birth to her daughter on Aug. 4, 2018.

“Ms. McKinnon says she wished to have children someday but not at such a young age,” court documents stated. “She would have preferred that she and her partner were more established in their careers and financially stable before having children.”

MacKinnon has been unable to find work as a certified dental assistant following the birth of her daughter.

The second plaintiff, Alyssa McIntosh, said she had been taking the pills since January 2017 to prevent pregnancy. On about Oct. 21, 2017, McIntosh found out she was pregnant and had a miscarriage in late November or early December, when she was about eight or nine weeks along.

McIntosh’s 21-pack was one of the advisory lots and she purchased them on June 23, 2017.

Testing the pills

Two packs of pills from another woman, Jenelle Hamilton, were tested by Emery Pharma in the spring of 2019. Alesse pills are supposed to have 20 micrograms of estrogen, a hormone that prevents pregnancy. The first pack, which was expired by about six months, had between 18 and 19.2 micrograms of estrogen per pill. The second pack, which was not expired, had between 18 to 19.2 micrograms per pill.

“None of the pills tested contained 20 mcg of estrogen, as represented in the Alesse Product Monograph,” court documents state. Neither pack of pills had any broken and chipped pills.

Certifying the class-action lawsuit

To certify a class-action suit, a judge does not need to decide if the facts of the case are true. To be certified, a class action must satisfy five parts: a cause of action, a class of two or more individuals, a common issue, a decision that a class action is more appropriate than individual claims and a representative claimant.

Justice Karen Horsman certified a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of Alesse. The class in question includes any person who was prescribed Alesse and took the medication between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 30, 2019.

There are expected to be at least 138 potential claimants, based on the number of women who contacted Rice Harbut Elliott LLP, the law firm handling the class-action.

Thirty-eight women also submitted adverse reaction reports to Health Canada, though it’s unclear if these are the same women as went to the law firm.

Pfizer Canada Inc. and Wyeth Canada argued against the certification of the class action. They alleged the lawsuit was too broad because the class action includes all people who took Alesse between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 30, 2019, the date in the Health Canada advisory, but is not limited to those who took pills belonging to the lots identified in the advisory.

“The defendants further say that any proposed class should be limited to individuals who actually became pregnant as they are the only class members who actually suffered harm,” court documents state.

However, Horsman said that other negative effects of having taking the less-effective pills also constitute harm, including emotional distress and economic loss due to purchasing defective medication.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Healthcare and Medicine

Just Posted

Chemainus Indigenous Peoples Weekend organizer Connie Crocker. (Photo submitted)
Chemainus Indigenous Peoples Weekend online June 19-21

Event’s been in the planning stages since February without knowing COVID implications

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Julie Nygaard’s By Moonlight Raven Flight is one of the photo-artist works in her show Through My Eyes – A Visual Journey, which will be featured at Rainforest Arts through August. (Photo submitted)
Photographer-painter Nygaard featured at Rainforest Arts

Real images enhanced through digital means to create compelling art

Filming of The Baker’s Son in Chemainus. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Bread-making brilliance and mediocrity the recipe for movie ingredients

Willow Street on the map as a prominent location in The Baker’s Son

The return of Community Policing will be a welcome addition by residents. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Return of Community Policing in the works

Volunteers being sought and coordinators to be announced soon

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Flowers and candles were laid on the driveway of the Weber home, where Kerri Weber was found dead in November 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria man to stand trial for death of his wife last November

Ken Weber is charged with second-degree murder of his wife, Kerri Weber

The discovery of a missing woman’s body in Nanaimo earlier this month is now being treated as homicide, say Nanaimo RCMP. (File photo)
Discovery of woman’s body in downtown Nanaimo now being investigated as a homicide

Amy Watts was found dead near Albert Street and Victoria Crescent on June 3

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

Ocean debris is shown on Long Beach in Tofino, B.C. on April, 18, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

The Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society, which has been operating a treatment centre on land leased from the Nanoose First Nation for 35 years (pictured), has begun a fundraising campaign to open a new centre near Duncan. (Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society photo)
New residential school healing centre to be built near Duncan

$5-million Indigenous treatment centre will help survivors of residential schools heal

Most Read