New York's governor declared a state health emergency Saturday because of a flu epidemic that has sickened more than 19,000 people, giving pharmacists the right to immunize infants and children in hopes of curbing the spread of the potentially lethal virus.
Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order, pharmacists for at least the next 30 days will be able to give flu shots to children as young as 6 months, a break from state law that usually limits them to immunizing those 18 years and older. Cuomo said the change was crucial given the nationwide flu epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there have been at least 28,747 cases of flu reported so far this season nationwide, and 20 deaths of children from the flu.
In New York state, 19,128 cases have been confirmed, compared to 4,404 for the previous 2011-12 flu season. The true national and state numbers are far higher, though, because many people who become ill do not go to doctors to get tested for the illness.
“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. So far, two children in New York state and at least 10 residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities in New York City have died from influenza.