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.
NRA readies gun-control counterattack
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The head of the National Rifle Association says his group is digging in for an expected political battle over gun control in the United States.
The public-relations counterattack will be based on print and television advertising and will target proposals the lobbying group expects the Obama administration to raise, to restrict access to assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
The association is dispatching representatives to gun shows nationwide to rally grassroots support, and urging members to contact their congressional representatives.
"We are mobilizing for a fight," NRA President David Keene told CNN. "We will engage our members."
The NRA has said it received a surge of new members following the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adult staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The shooting spree produced new calls for restrictions on access to combat-type weapons and a series of White House meetings conducted by Vice President Joe Biden intended to identify possible government action to reduce gun violence.
Bombing protests persist in Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Protesters filled the streets of Quetta, Pakistan, Saturday, expressing outrage over the worst day of violence in the country since 2007.
About 1,000 Pakistani Shiites braved winter cold to block a major road in the city with funeral processions for some of the 92 people killed in the bombing of a billiards hall.
Protesters Friday lined up about 50 coffins along the street to press demands that the Pakistani military dispatch troops to Quetta to maintain order, the Khaama Press said.
Talks aimed at curbing the protests apparently made little progress Friday, Dawn News said.
A federal minister told reporters another meeting between government officials and Shiite leaders would take place Sunday in Karachi.
No one has claimed responsibility for the recent spate of bombings in Quetta. Militant Islamists linked to al-Qaida have been blamed for similar attacks in the past.
China chokes on smog for another day
BEIJING, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Environmental officials in China warned a heavy blanket of smog will hang over Beijing and surrounding cities through the weekend.
The capital city's environment monitoring center told China's official Xinhua news agency Saturday not to expect the thick smog to clear out before Monday.
Much of eastern and central China has been putting up with heavily polluted air that has reduced visibility enough to cancel airline flights and close roads in some areas.
The level of particulates in the air has soared to the point that children and the elderly were being advised to stay indoors until further notice.
The BBC said the air quality had surpassed the danger levels set by the World Health Organization. The report said there was so much exhaust and coal dust in the air in Beijing it could be tasted.