The European Court of Justice [official website] ruled [judgement, PDF] Wednesday that vaccines can be blamed for causing illnesses even if there is no scientific proof. In a press release [PDF], the court explained:
In today’s judgment, the Court holds that evidentiary rules allowing the court, where there is not certain and irrefutable evidence, to conclude that there is a defect in a vaccine and a causal link between the defect and a disease on the basis of a set of evidence the seriousness, specificity and consistency of which allows it to consider, with a sufficiently high degree of probability, that such a conclusion corresponds to the reality of the situation, are compatible with the Directive. Such evidentiary rules do not bring about a reversal of the burden of proof which it is for the victim to discharge, since that system places the burden on the victim to prove the various elements of his case which, taken together, will provide the court hearing the case with a basis for its conclusion as to the existence of a defect in the vaccine and a causal link between that defect and the damage suffered.
The decision comes out of a case that was appealed from France’s Court of Cassation [official website] regarding a man who developed multiple sclerosis shortly after being inoculated against hepatitis B. The court reasoned that the “temporal proximity between the administering of a vaccine” and the man’s onset of multiple sclerosis, the lack of familial history with the disease and the “significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following such vaccines being administered” was enough to meet the victim’s burden of proof. The court also asserted that “excluding any method of proof” other than science-backed evidence would make it exceedingly difficult to establish liability and undermines the objectives of the court, “which are to protect consumer health and safety and ensure a fair apportionment between the injured person and the producer of the risks inherent in modern technological production.”
Vaccinations and their potential harm has been a topic of debate in the US in recent years. Much of the vaccination debate revolves around the alleged link between certain vaccines and autism. Two years ago the California State Assembly [official website] passed legislation [JURIST report] requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated unless there is a medical reason not to do so. In January 2015 a federal appeals court upheld [JURIST report] a New York state rule barring unimmunized children from public schools. In May 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that even for an untimely petition filed under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, a petitioner may recover attorney’s fees as long as the claim was filed in good faith and there is a reasonable basis. In February 2011 the US Supreme Court ruled that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 provides blanket immunity [JURIST report] to vaccine manufacturers from all tort actions filed in state or federal court alleging design defects. The decision was consistent with 18 major scientific studies [JURIST op-ed] that have failed to show a link between vaccines and the widely-diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder. In August 2010 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision finding insufficient evidence [JURIST report] to link childhood vaccines and autism in three cases.