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The European Court of Justice has been accused of undermining Britain’s vaccination programme after ruling that patients can sue for illnesses they believe were caused by jabs, even when there is no scientific evidence.
The EU's highest court said that if a number of healthy people developed a disease shortly after receiving a vaccine then that would serve as enough proof to bring a claim.
The ruling, which health experts in Britain said was ‘of serious concern’, opens the door for class actions from patients who believe their health was affected by vaccines, even when there is no medical proof.
More than 1,000 families have attempted to seek compensation from pharmaceutical companies over claims that their is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, following controversial research by British doctor Andrew Wakefield who was later struck off the medical register.
But fears that the measles, mumps and rubella jab can cause damage have continued to plague vaccination efforts, and British experts said the new ruling could further exacerbate the problem.
Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection & Immunity, University of Oxford, & Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said: “Vaccine policy decisions in the UK are underpinned by scientific evidence which is reviewed by the experts on JCVI, including close scrutiny of vaccine safety before any vaccine is introduced.
“The European Court Ruling does not appear to be consistent with the normal rational scientific approach to analysis of evidence, and the decision risks undermining vaccine programmes which save millions of lives around the world every year."
The ruling stemmed from the case of a French man known as J.W. who was vaccinated against hepatitis B in 1998 and developed multiple sclerosis a year later. In 2006, J.W. sued pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, which produced the vaccine, blaming it for his decline in health and after a lengthy court battle, the case ended up at the European Court of Human Justice.
The court's decision provides guidance for all EU courts considering similar issues.
Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There are very serious concerns about this ruling from the European Court of Justice that judges can decide whether a vaccine has caused an illness even without evidence, and the implications of this.
“Vaccines are one of the greatest global health achievements. While it is vital that we identify adverse effects of vaccines that are real, we must be very careful not to damage public trust in vaccines.
“The now discredited claim of a link between the MMR jab and autism is clear evidence of that.”
Prof Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology added: “It is very concerning that the European Court of Justice has ruled that judges can consider whether a vaccination led to someone developing a medical condition, even if there is no scientific evidence to support this.
“Decisions must be made on evidence, not anecdote. Vaccines are amongst the best measures we have to save lives and prevent disease.
“The public should be reassured that all vaccines available in the UK go through a rigorous approval process and ongoing monitoring to ensure their safety.”