By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–On Wednesday in a public hearing of the House Health Committee Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), made a passionate and concise case for giving premature babies a vaccine that would protect them from a deadly virus and perhaps save their lives.
One of the grave dangers for some infants, especially premature babies, is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
RSV is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis in babies and is the most frequent cause of lower respiratory tract infections in children. Speaking to the committee members Dial said, “We have all supported pro-life bills this year– SB196 is a LIFE bill– its our moral responsibility to ensure that the premature infants born in our state are given every opportunity possible. The Healthy Infants Bill is meant to save lives.”
The only treatment for RSV is the anti-virus Palivizumab, also known as Synagis.
In 2009, Kelli Littlejohn who works as the head of pharmacy at Medicaid changed the required dosage for Medicaid babies receiving the palivizumab vaccine, SB196 would restore the dosage to the pre-2009 regiment that is recommended by the FDA.
At the House public hearing Dr. Donald Williamson, the State Health Officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health spoke against SB196, saying that the state’s Medicaid experts did not support the FDA recommendation but rather the one now used by Alabama’s Medicaid office. In a moment of humor, Dr. Williamson said that the reason he was at the meeting was because he answered the wrong phone call. The laughter from the capacity crowd was hardy but sympathetic.
Williamson, was asked to run the state’s troubled Medicaid department after the departure of Dr. Bob Mullins.
Williamson in his testimony seemed to make clear that the reason for opposing SB196 was purely on the grounds of cost savings.
After hearing from the final speaker Senator Dial retook the floor saying again to the committee that he believed SB196 would save lives. Dial pointed out that Alabama ranks 49th in the nation, with some of counties experiencing infant mortality rates in excess of 30 percent. That’s one out of three babies born not making it their first birthday. Emphasizing, “This is simply unacceptable.”
He then made a friendly but serious challenge to Dr. Williamson and Kelli Littlejohn, saying that if the the drug prescription recommended in SB196 did not reduce infant mortality within a few years, he vowed, “I will quit the Senate,” then he paused and said “If Dr. Williamson, will do the same if it doesn’t.” He then issued the same challenge to Littlejohn. There was laughter all around but Williamson and Littlejohn did not take Dial’s bet.
The committee voted unanimous vote to pass SB196.
After the hearing Dial said, “Today’s unanimous vote to pass SB196 out of the House Health Committee affirms the bipartisan support received in the Senate. The Healthy Infants Bill is meant to save lives throughout our state. Access to medical services is crucial to premature infants, especially during their first year of life. There is no price tag that can be put on the life of a child.”