In response to a rising incidence of influenza, New York state is temporarily allowing pharmacists to administer vaccinations to children.


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N.Y. lets pharmacists give flu shots to kids

January 14th, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. – In response to a rising incidence of influenza, New York state is temporarily allowing pharmacists to administer vaccinations to children.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday issued an executive order that allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to patients age six months to 17 years. The order suspends for the next 30 days the section of state education law that restricts the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents only to individuals age 18 or older.

New York's increasingly severe flu season has led Cuomo to declare a public health emergency. So far, 19,128 flu cases have been reported in the state this season, compared with 4,404 positive laboratory tests for all of last season (2011-12).

The governor's office said that as of Jan. 5, the New York State Department of Health had received reports of 2,884 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, compared with 1,169 total hospitalizations in 2011. To date, two children in New York state and 18 children nationwide and have died from flu this season.

"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 nation's largest drug chains — Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid — offer flu vaccines on a walk-in basis. On Monday afternoon, Jan. 14, Walgreen Co. announced that Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies in New York have begun offering flu shots to children ages 7 and older in response to Cuomo's executive order and will do so through Feb. 10.

"Due to increased demand, some locations may experience shortages in supply. Customers can call ahead to confirm availability," Walgreen Co. stated Monday. "Walgreens is continually working to distribute vaccine to stores in a timely manner to help serve the needs of customers and patients."

On Sunday, pharmacy staff at Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid drug stores in Bethpage, N.Y., located on metro New York's Long Island, indicated that they were awaiting supplies of the pediatric flu vaccine now that the state has suspended its limitation on pharmacists administering immunizations to children.

Cuomo also announced Saturday that the State Health Department will launch a broad promotion of flu immunization, working in tandem with county, regional and private health care partners as well as local health departments. As part of the effort, ongoing flu-related information and resources will be updated and disseminated via press advisories and media events, dedicated websites and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, the State Health Department plans to continue issuing health advisories to health care providers, hospitals, long-term care facilities, local health departments and pharmacies to urge all New Yorkers to get a flu vaccination if they haven't done so. The state, too, is promoting an online flu shot locator at http://flushot.healthmap.org/ so people can search by ZIP code for the nearest place to get a flu vaccine, including pharmacies.

This season's flu vaccine provides protection against three flu strains: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the overall effectiveness of this season's flu vaccine at 62%.

"That means that if you got vaccinated, you were about 60% less likely to get the flu that required you to go to your doctor," CDC director Tom Frieden said during the agency's regular flu activity briefing. "So what we have known for a long time is that the flu vaccine is far from perfect. But it's still by far the best tool we have to prevent the flu."

The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older get a flu vaccination.

"Most of the country is seeing or has seen a lot of flu, and this may continue for a number of weeks," Frieden said. "As we said in early December, the season got off to an earlier start than usual, about a month or so ahead of what we normally see. We're continuing to see influenza activity remaining elevated in most of the U.S."

Twenty-four states and New York City are reporting a high level of influenza-like illness (ILI) activity, and 16 are reporting moderate levels of ILI activity, according to Frieden. Also, 47 states report widespread geographic flu activity, up from 41 in the previous week.

"Influenza will continue for several more weeks," Frieden said. "During the past decades, we have seen an average of about 12 consecutive weeks, three months of the ILI being elevated. As we often say, the only thing predictable about flu is that it's unpredictable. Only time will tell us how long our season will last and how moderate or how severe this season will be in the end."

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