This week, the highest European Union Court ruled that vaccines can be blamed for illnesses even if there absolutely no significant evidence linking the two. The European court's vaccine ruling is being criticized in the United States for good reason: There is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause any disease to begin with. The ruling came down in the case of a French man who was once vaccinated against hepatitis B back in the late 1990s. In 2006, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He and his family sued the manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur for damages, claiming that the vaccine was the cause of his illness. The man died in 2011.
In France, the case was thrown out by the Court of Appeals, since there was no evidence in any studies that showed the vaccine could cause multiple sclerosis. But it went up to the EU's court. On Wednesday, the court didn't address the French case specifically, but it did rule that vaccines could be blamed for disease, without any scientific proof, which is sort of scary.
Basically, according to Stat News, if a judge has a hunch that it was possible, that's enough. Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccines expert at the University of Pennsylvania, however, argued, "Using those criteria, you could reasonably make the case that someone should be compensated for developing leukemia after eating a peanut butter sandwich."
Unfortunately, the anti-vaccination movement in the United States depends on rulings like this one to back up their story that vaccines cause autism or other illnesses. But it's just not true. In fact, not vaccinating children hurts them. Medical science can prevent diseases that result in death or permanent disability, like whooping cough, meningitis, the flu. Diseases like HPV, which causes cervical cancer, and all types of hepatitis can also be prevented with vaccines in older children and adults.
Fear of vaccinations stems from the work of Andrew Wakefield, a British man who published a study in 1998 about the supposed link between autism and vaccines. The study was later debunked by Wakefield's peers and co-authors, and his medical license was revoked in 2010, after the British General Medical Council found several instances of misconduct on his part. Yet, his dangerous theories still manage to snag followers all over the world to this day.
Offit believes that Wakefield's work is the cause of most fears of vaccines, and he is convinced that vaccines are totally safe, as are most credible scientists. He told CBS after a measles outbreak in 2015:
Absolutely no doubt. MMR vaccine does not cause autism. It never made biological sense that it would and now we have all the epidemiological studies showing that it clearly didn't.
Offit's theory of vaccine fear is more plausible than most of the anti-vaccination movement's fears. It's human to want to "blame" something, so Wakefield's "boogeyman," as Offit describes it, can often feel like the best solution in anti-vaxxers' or, in this case, court officials' minds, even though there is no causal link between the vaccines and any of these disorders.
Europe did a disservice to its public by allowing legal experts instead of medical experts decide what effects vaccines have on the body. Only time will tell what sort of fallout will follow.