A nurses looks for a box of flu vaccinations at the Premier Care walk-in health clinic on Jan. 10, 2013 in New York City. The Flu season has hit New York particularly hard this year.
(Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images)
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency in New York on Saturday in response to this year's severe flu season.
Cuomo issued an executive order allowing pharmacists to provide flu shots to patients between the ages of six months and 18 years old. The order suspends state law that restricts pharmacists from administering the vaccinations to minors.
Two children in New York and 18 children nationwide have died because of the flu this season.
To date, 19,128 cases of influenza have been reported in New York this year. In comparison, there were 4,404 positive laboratory tests for the flu last year.
Since Jan. 5, the state Department of Health has received reports of 2,884 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, compared with 1,169 total hospitalizations in 2011.
"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."
Flu was widespread in 47 states, up from 41 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. That has spurred demand for the vaccine, which can still be effective even though the illness is widespread.
"We have some but we don't know how long the supply is going to last," said Bob Giaquinto of Rye Beach Pharmacy in Westchester County.
"It's very frustrating," he said.
One of the pharmacy's two suppliers is all out but the other has promised to ship more over the weekend, Giaquinto said.
Others seeking the vaccine at local pharmacies were out of luck. Many CVS pharmacies throughout the area reported that they had no vaccine left. At the CVS in New City, the vaccine was still available, but so many people wanted it that customers were waiting an hour or longer for the shot.
"I'm glad I got mine in October," said Yonkers resident Eric Schoen, who was in a drug store in the Fleetwood section of the city, where he saw people seeking the vaccine being turned away.
The health department recommends that everyone six months or older receive a flu vaccination. Infants under six months cannot get a flu vaccination.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, severe headache, muscle aches, cough and sore throat. The flu virus poses the most serious risk for those younger than age 2, older than 50, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions.
Dr. Rosemary Calligaris of Eastchester Pediatric Medical Group, part of Children's and Women's Physicians of Westchester, said she started seeing children sick with the flu just in the past two or three days.
"It comes on really fast," she said. "One day they're fine, and the next day they wake up with a 104-degree fever, chills and body aches."
Jessica Bakeman reports for Gannett's Albany (N.Y.) bureau. Contributing: Jane Lerner of The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
Jessica Bakeman, Gannett