A potentially revolutionary verdict was reached in June 2017 within the European Court of Justice (ECJ). After a court case running for over 10 years, the ECJ appears to have ruled for the use of circumstantial evidence over inconclusive scientific evidence. Obviously, this decision has rocked the scientific community, particularly those working within the field of vaccines directly related to the case.
However, what actually was this decision, what does it actually mean for vaccination experts across Europe, and what could it mean for you?
What Has Happened?
During 1998-1999, a Frenchman known only to the public as Mr. J.W was vaccinated against the Hepatitis B virus. While no problems immediately occurred with his vaccination, less than a year after the injections Mr. J.W. was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS — a long-term and often terminal disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal column.
After living with the disease for over six years, Mr. J.W. and his family launched a suit against Sanofi Pasteur, the largest vaccine production and research company in the world, in 2006. They sued Sanofi for negligently creating a defective vaccine that directly leads to Mr. J. W’s MS diagnosis. Mr. J.W and his family justified their lawsuit through entirely circumstantial evidence, primarily the lack of long-term symptoms associated with MS.
The case was complicated throughout its history in different European court systems. Initially, Mr. J.W. won the case in French Regional Court in 2009, based upon a lack of previous health issues and family history of M.S.
However, the Versailles Court of Appeal overturned the decision, as no medical link could be proven between the vaccine and Mr. J.W.’s MS. This decision was then overturned by the French Court of Cassation until eventually reaching the Paris Court of Appeal, who asked for advice from the European Court of Justice, the highest European Court, on whether the circumstantial evidence could outweigh the medical and scientific evidence against Mr. J.W.’s case.
The European Court of Justice ruled that Mr. J.W.’s circumstantial evidence could outweigh the medical evidence against any connection between the vaccine and Multiple Sclerosis, as long as the circumstantial evidence abides by three criteria set out by the ECJ and is “serious, specific and consistent.”
The potential ramifications of this decision are massive, for both vaccine experts in the medical community and the average citizen of Europe. However, it is certainly not as apocalyptic as many are saying. The distribution of defective products and subsequent lawsuits are already common in many industries.
What Does It Mean for Vaccine Experts?
However, this verdict has provoked a particularly negative reaction from vaccine experts who believe it could result in major risks to the modern prevalence of vaccination.
In the United Kingdom, many prominent vaccine experts have expressed their displeasure concerning the European Court of Justice decision. Among them is Professor Andrew Pollard, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization at Oxford University. He stated that the ruling “does not appear to be consistent with normal rational scientific approach to the analysis of evidence” and “risks undermining vaccine programs which save millions of lives around the world every year.”
Similar opinions are coming from the rest of the world as well. In the United States, Dr. Paul Offit has also condemned the decision for being without sense. Dr. Offit, who is a pediatrician and vaccination specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that courts should not be trusted to make scientific rulings and that “using the criteria… someone should be compensated for developing leukemia after eating a peanut butter sandwich.”
However, the potential problems arising from the decision are not limited to ones of legality and litigation. The effect of such a decision, and the ensuing lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers, on the public attitude towards vaccines are potentially disastrous. 41% of French citizens disagree with the statement ‘vaccines are safe,’ according to a 2016 study, and this number could drastically increase if the decision turns public opinion against vaccination.
What Could It Mean for You?
The decision made by the European Court of Justice does not simply affect experts in the field, or potential targets for unfair lawsuits. It also has the potential to affect the citizens of Europe, or any other continent for that matter.
A changing attitude toward vaccinations, and increased dangers of litigation toward vaccination production and research companies, is likely to inflate the prices of vital medication that has proven to eradicate lethal diseases like polio.
Even more distressing, it could result in the return for many dangerous diseases that has been mostly destroyed. The World Health Organization issued a warning that measles, an easily vaccinated disease, was increasing in number of infections across Europe in March 2017. Clearly, the attitude of people toward vaccines, and the controversial decision made by the European Court of Justice, has the potential to affect thousands across Europe.