Merck & Co says it is now ready to start issuing payments to claimants who joined in the $4.85 billion deal the firm set out last November to settle litigation relating to the withdrawn COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx.

The New Jersey-based firm stated “it is satisfied that the thresholds necessary to trigger funding of the programme” to resolve state and federal myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke claims concerning Vioxx (rofecoxib) will be met. More than 97% of eligible claimants now have initiated enrollment in the programme, which corresponds to more than 48,500 of the roughly 50,000 people who registered eligible injuries.

Previously Merck had said that the settlement would be null and void until at least 85% of eligible patients elected to participate. That level has been comfortably surpassed and the vast majority of claimants have submitted releases and other materials for verification, according to Merck statement. Under the terms of the settlement, the company could have exercised a walk-away right if the thresholds and other requirements were not met, but it says that right will be waived as of August 4, and the first payment, of $500 million, is scheduled to go out on August 6.

Bruce Kuhlik, Merck’s general counsel, said that enough claims have been verified for the firm to fund the programme. “All parties continue to work hard in good faith on an orderly, documented and objective process,” he added, “that examines each claim to determine if individuals are qualified to receive a payment."

Last year the company took a pretax charge to cover the settlement which was agreed on with the executive committee of lawyers that represented all the plaintiffs’ legal teams who have sued Merck over Vioxx.