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

Shortreed Elementary received $40,000 from the Indigo Love of Reading foundation to purchase new books. (Special to The Star)
VIDEO: Shortreed one of 30 Canadian schools aided by Indigo’s Love of Reading program

Aldergrove school received $40,000, which will be put towards new books for the library

Students staged a flash mob on the last day of dancing at Lisa’s School of Dance in Langley City on Saturday, June 19. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Final dances held at Lisa Dew’s dance school in Langley City

After 35 years, the school has been forced to close due to the bottom-line impact of the pandemic

Jessica Horst, a volunteer with the Bertrand Creek Enhancement Society, picked Scotch Broom at Jackman Wetlands on Wednesday night. (Lisa Dreves/Special to The Star)
Scotch broom removal a big task six years in the making at Jackman Wetlands

Volunteers filled a truck-full of invasive shrub growing rampant in Aldergrove park

Health and safety protocols for arriving international travellers are strict and don’t consider reasons for travel, says a letter writer. (Black Press Media files)
LETTER: Langley performer irked by ever-changing, inconsistent COVID rules

Letter writer feels she had not choice but to move to Mexico to ride out pandemic

A fawn separated from his mother by a well-meaning homeowner in Maple Ridge is a cautionary tale, say Conservation officers and staff at Langley’s Critter Care wildlife sanctuary. (Critter Care/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Maple Ridge fawn in Langley wildlife sanctuary after separation from mother

Wildlife officials say moving a fawn is not a good idea

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

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

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Most Read