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

The Northern Sea Wolf is set to arrive in Bella Coola June 19 and BCVT remains cautiously optimistic for a more “normal” 2021 season (Michael Wigle photo)
Summer ferry service to Bella Coola to start June 19

“We are optimistic for a good tourist season.”

A Category 3 fire ban will go into effect across the entire Cariboo Fire Centre beginning noon on Monday, June 21. (Pixaby photo)
Category 3 fire ban extends across entire Cariboo Fire Centre June 21

Campfires are still permitted, but no larger than half a metre high by half a metre wide

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation planning ground analysis of land near former residential school

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

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

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

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

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read