ALBANY, N.Y., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Saturday declared a public health emergency for the entire state in response to the increasingly severe flu season.
Cuomo issued an executive order allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients ages 6 months to 18 years. The order suspends for 30 days the section of the law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents only to individuals age 18 and older.
New York pharmacists have been providing flu vaccines to adults age 18 and older for years.
To date, 19,128 cases of influenza were reported in New York, compared with 4,404 confirmed cases for the entire flu season last year. As of Jan. 5, the New York state Department of Health received reports of 2,884 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, compared to 1,169 total hospitalizations last year -- higher than the worst week of the 2009 H1N1 swine flu.
The number of patients admitted to New York hospitals with laboratory-confirmed influenza, or hospitalized patients newly diagnosed with laboratory-confirmed influenza, was 1,120 -- a 55 percent increase over last week, the state Health Department said.
Two children in New York and 18 children across the United States died as a result of this year's seasonal influenza. The number of influenza-associated pediatric deaths nationally was 292 in 2009/2010, 122 in 2010/2011 and 34 in 2011/2012.
"We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009, and influenza activity in New York state is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City," Cuomo said in a statement. "Therefore, I have directed my administration, the state Health Department and others to marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers -- children and adults alike -- have access to critically needed flu vaccines."
The governor urged New Yorkers to receive a flu shot immediately.
New Yorkers can find a local vaccine provider by visiting http://flushot.healthmap.org and entering their Zip code. New Yorkers without Internet access can call 1-800-522-5006.
People with flu-like symptoms -- fever, cough or sore throat -- should call their doctor before heading to the hospital. Many New Yorkers are going to the emergency room with mild symptoms and there's no need to go to the hospital unless your doctor advises you to, the state Health Department said.