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

Eric White’s roadside farm stand in Metchosin sits stocked with produce. (Photo courtesy of Eric White)
Fledgling Metchosin farmer frustrated by thefts from stand

Eric White said every dollar made at the roadside helps sustain his farm

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada

Emergency health services treated a person after they were blocking traffic at the intersection of Fort and Douglas Streets on June 17. (Evert Lindquist/ News Staff)
Victoria intersection traffic returns to normal after protester blocked roadway

A person in a motorized wheelchair was blocking the intersection at Fort and Douglas Streets

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

Helicopter crew members onboard HMCS Halifax conduct inflight refueling during Operation Reassurance in the Mediterranean Sea in 2020. Some of the military choppers flying around Greater Victoria recently are taking part in a special ops training exercise. (Photo by Cpl. Braden Trudeau/Trinity-Formation Imaging Services)
Special Ops exercise brings influx of helicopters to Victoria

Ontario-based air force unit comes to Victoria to train over ocean

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

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read