Vaccines and Justice: What Does the New European ​Court of Justice Decision Really Say​,​ and What Can It Tell Us about Vaccines and Autism in the U.S.?

A new decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding vaccines provides that, while there is no scientific consensus regarding vaccine causing a disease, in order to prove that a vaccine was defective and that ​it caused the ​victim’s injury, plaintiffs are free to submit any relevant ​evidence that ​need not be a general scientific proof linking the vaccine to the injury.

​​​This decision involved the following:​

After receiving a vaccine for hepatitis B between 1998 and 1999​, ​the ​victim, J.W., developed symptoms that eventually led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2000.​ In 2011, J.W. died from that illness. In 2006, his family ​filed a suit for damages against the​ vaccine’s manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.​ During the litigation, the Court of Appeals ​in ​Paris, France, ruled that no link between vaccines against hepatitis B and occurrence of multiple sclerosis was demonstrated.​

Another appeal was filed with the Court of Cassation, which then brought this question before the Court of Justice of the European Union: ​When the plaintiff needs to prove that his injury was caused​ by a vaccine, and where there is no general​, ​ ​scientifically proven, link between this kind of vaccine and multiple sclerosis, can the court rely on ​credible non-scientific evidence specific to the case? This evidence included the ​following: the plaintiff was in excellent health​;​ ​he ​had no family history of ​multiple sclerosis;​ he ​became ill shortly after receiving the vaccine​; and there was a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following ​hepatitis B ​vaccin​ation.

The ​European ​Court of Justice​ answered this question in the affirmative. According to the Court, even when there is no consensus in the medical research as to whether a defect in the vaccine causes a certain disease​,​ and ​there is ​no ​scientific proof that the vaccine was defective, if evidence introduced​ in ​the specific case shows with a high degree of probability that a causal nexus might be present in the ​victim’s ​specific situation, the court should admit such evidence​ and weigh it as part of its decision​. ​The evidence, however, needs to be “​​serious, specific and consistent.”

Moreover, ​the Court underscored that ​making medical proof a prerequisite for submitting evidence to establish a ​vaccine’s​ defect and causation denies the plaintiff access to justice and creates unfairness.

In short, in Europe you could present evidence to show your specific case of vaccine injury even​ in the absence of scientific consensus​ and medical research ​indicating that ​the vaccine cause​s​ a certain disease.

So what’s the difference between the European system and ours? While in Europe you could sue a vaccine ​manufacturer in a regular court, ​here ​in the U.S., a plaintiff can only do so in the Vaccine Court (the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims)​.​ ​Basically​,​ vaccine victims here in the U.S. are denied access to the general courts​ system. Another difference, which makes vaccine​ manufacturers practically immune from legal action, is that there needs to be medical proof of causation in order to prosecute a suit against a vaccine manufacturer.​ In Europe, such proof is now not required. However, in the U.S., when the ​victim sustains certain injuries specified in the vaccine injury law (the same one that established the special Vaccine Court), there is a​​ ​conclusive ​presumption of liability; and victims are also given the option to prove their injuries by medical evidence. ​European law recognizes no mandatory presumptions of liability. Moreover, this law requires proof that the vaccine product was defective, whereas in the U.S., for purposes of injuries recognized by the vaccine law, there is no such requirement.

The differences between the European and the U.S. legal systems when it comes to vaccines, ​are especially interesting with regards to autism.

​Consider the elements of the case of J.W.​:​ ​a ​victim with excellent health; no family history of the disease; the victim acquired the disease shortly after receiving the vaccine; and many other cases like his have been reported​. These elements are present in many cases of children and infants​ who developed autism​. ​Countless of cases ​have been ​reported ​in which perfectly healthy infants and toddlers with no family history of autism ​have started showing symptoms of autism shortly after ​being vaccin​ated​. If ​our legal system​ were similar to the European ​system, these ​multiple ​cases would be tried​ in courts​ and decided on the merits. However, as I said before, our system immun​izes vaccine makers ​against products liability; and ​because there is no agreed​-​upon scientific or medical research proving a link between vaccines and autism, and the ​vaccine ​law does not ​list autism as ​a vaccine injury that merits compensation,​ many autism families are left without access to justice.