Controversial British surgeon Dr. Andrew Wakefield today defended allegations by authors that his research citing a possible link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism were outright "fraudulent."
"There was no fraud, there was no falsification, there was no hoax," Wakefield told George Stephanopolous today on "Good Morning America."
Evidence Wakefield published in 1998 gave birth to the belief of a connection between vaccines and autism, which ignited a nationwide public health scare and a larger anti-vaccine movement.
But authors of the editorial published nearly two weeks ago in the British Medical Journal confirmed previous suggestions that Wakefield skewed patients' medical records to support his hypothesis that the widely-used measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combination vaccine was causing autism and irritable bowel disease.
"The work certainly does raise a question mark over MMR vaccine," Wakefield said in a 1998 interview.
But editorial authors wrote, "clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare."
According to the editorial, Wakefield stood to gain financially from his purported findings because of his involvement in a lawsuit against manufacturers of the MMR vaccine. British news reports said Wakefield was hired as a consultant by lawyers trying to sue the vaccine's manufacturers. His compensation, they said, was about $750,000.
Wakefield today denied any allegations of wrongdoing. He said British reporter Brian Deers, who led the latest investigation unraveling Wakefield's research, used selective information from the study to build a case against Wakefield.
The editorial may not be enough to dissuade many people who believe Wakefield's claims, no matter how compelling the scientific evidence, according to Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
"It's unfair for the BMJ to call him a fraud, because as a fraud you have to have mal intent," said Offit. "But if you give Wakefield a lie detector test and ask him if he thinks MMR causes autism, he'd say yes. And he would probably pass, because he holds to it as one holds to a religious belief."
Wakefield's claim, first published in The Lancet, has since been roundly discredited. Though the paper was retracted from the journal in February 2010, it is still cited by some doctors and many parents of children with autism.
Colleen McGrath, 42, of San Diego, Calif., heard Wakefield speak at an autism conference in July 2010 and said she knew she was doing the right thing by selectively choosing which vaccines would be best for her two children.
McGrath's children do not have autism. But as preschool teacher, she said she and her colleagues began wondering whether there was a connection between some of the children who were vaccinated and their subsequent diagnoses of developmental disorders.
McGrath held off on giving her son, age 9, the second of the two doses that make up the MMR vaccine. And now she says she does not plan to vaccinate either of her children against whooping cough.