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US Court Hearings Begin on Link Between Vaccines, Autism

Thousands of families who believe vaccines caused their children's autism will have their day in court Monday, as hearings begin in Washington, D.C.

The first test case involves a 12-year-old girl from the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona. Her parents say a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, plus a mercury-containing preservative, caused the child's autism.

More than 4,800 families have filed claims with the U.S. government, alleging that their children contracted autism as a result of routine vaccinations. Three so-called "special masters" will hear the test cases at the little-known U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The parents are seeking vindication for their belief and compensation payments from a government trust fund.

Most scientists argue that vaccines are not linked to autism.

Autism is a neurological disorder that can severely impact social interaction, communication and developmental growth.

The Institute of Medicine points to large scientific studies that have found no association between autism and vaccines.

But some members of the National Autism Association say drug manufacturers and the federal government work too closely together to the point that the government works to protect the industry from liability. The association says it wants to raise awareness of environmental toxins that can cause neurological damage.