Flu emergency declared in New York State

Photo of flu shot being administered by Indiana Public Radio. Published under Creative Commons license.

With flu cases skyrocketing across the state and the nation, Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared an official public health emergency for the state of New York. The announcement was made on Saturday.

Along with the declaration, Cuomo signed an executive order allowing pharmacists to give flu vaccine to children between six months and 18 years old, for 30 days after the order. Under normal circumstances, the law does not allow pharmacists to vaccinate children.

People who want to be vaccinated can get a flu shot at a pharmacy, local health department, or medical provider. Since influenza viruses are constantly shifting, the flu shot is different every year, and in some years it is a better match for the genetic flu strains in circulation than in others. This year, the CDC estimates, getting a flu shot will reduce the average person's chances of having to go to the doctor with a case of the flu by 60 percent.

Since the current flu season began, Cuomo's office announced, the state has seen 19,128 cases of influenza -- compared to 4,404 for the entire flu season last year. Twenty children across the U.S. have died of the flu this season.

Officials and public health experts are urging people to get flu shots, though many are opting to take their chances. New Yorker science and health writer Michael Specter bemoans the fact that over sixty percent of Americans have not gotten a flu shot this season:

...high flu season is also the time when some of the smartest people I know act in the most irrational ways. On Friday, a highly educated, very smart colleague at The New Yorker explained her decision to remain unvaccinated with these words: “I never get a flu shot, and I never get the flu.”

O.K. Let’s play her game. Turn to whomever you are with and say these sentences out loud: “I never wear seat belts, and I never get killed in car crashes”; “I never use condoms, and I never become infected with sexually transmitted diseases”; “I eat red meat seven times a week, only exercise once a year, and I’ve never had a heart attack or a stroke.”

Cuomo got his flu shot on January 10 from state Department of Health commissioner Nirav Shah, and in an AP photo, appears to have been pretty cheerful about it.