Weekly Flu Diagnoses and Hospitalizations Climb to Highest on Record in New York State
New Yor, NY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed an executive order to combat the flu epidemic in New York. The executive order allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18 – increasing access and convenience for New Yorkers seeking the flu vaccination as the number of reported cases across the state continues to rise. Over the past week, 7,779 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases were reported to the state and 1,759 New Yorkers have been hospitalized with confirmed influenza, the highest weekly numbers in both categories since reporting began in 2004 and surpassing last week’s previous high of 1,606 hospitalizations.
“With flu cases reaching epidemic proportions in New York, we must do everything in our power to fight this virus and keep New Yorkers safe,” Governor Cuomo said. “Once again, I urge all New Yorkers to help us combat this quick-spreading strain of flu and make sure they and their loved ones are vaccinated.”
To raise awareness on the high rates of influenza and to continue to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated, Governor Cuomo has also called on the Department of Health to immediately expand the state’s influenza public service advertising campaign targeting the areas of the state hardest hit by influenza. Additionally, subscribers to the New York State text line will receive a message encouraging them to get a vaccine and providing resources to find a location to receive the vaccine.
The Executive Order, effective today, suspends the section of state education law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to anyone under age 18 to allow vaccines to be administered to anyone age 2 and up. Parents and guardians are encouraged to call pharmacies ahead of their visit, to ensure they are ready to receive patients in this age group. Parents and guardians with children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months are still encouraged to see their primary care provider for the vaccination.
To receive a flu shot, contact your local healthcare provider or pharmacy, or find information about vaccination clinics by contacting your local health department. Flu shots may also be found through the HealthMap Vaccine Finder at www.vaccinefinder.org.
In addition to the steps taken by the Department of Health last week, the Governor ordered the following actions to protect New Yorkers from influenza and ensure health care system capacity:
- Issuance of Department of Financial Services guidance to health insurers to ensure that prior authorization is not a barrier to the prescribing of antiviral medications within the first 48 hours of illness.
- Direct engagement with all New York State county health commissioners to review the four key strategies of influenza control- vaccination, rapid antiviral treatment, isolation of sick individuals, and good hand hygiene- and promote local vaccination-awareness efforts.
- Ongoing communication with all New York State hospitals and nursing homes to review capacity management strategies and the actions available to expand capacity to handle the patient surge.
- Continued monitoring of hospital capacity through survey and direct outreach to hospital leadership.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “As number of flu cases continues to rise throughout the state, it is imperative that we make it as easy as possible for New Yorkers to get the flu vaccine to protect themselves, their families, and their communities this season. Building on the actions taken last week, the Department of Health will be launching an aggressive flu prevention and awareness campaign, providing text alerts on where to get the vaccine, monitoring health care facility capacity, and coordinating flu response activities with local health departments, provider associations, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities.”
Mike Duteau, Chain Pharmacy Association President, said, “The Chain Pharmacy Association of New York fully supports Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order to allow pharmacists to provide flu shots to children two years old and above. With the recent flu outbreak affecting communities across the state, this measure will expand access to specially trained pharmacists who are able to provide flu vaccinations to children and their family members. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible community healthcare providers, often open nights and weekends. Please contact your pharmacist today to see if he or she can provide this important service for you and your family.”
Kathy Febraio, Executive Director, Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, said, “Pharmacists are preparing their operations to support the Governor’s Executive Order. They are pleased to play a critical role in containing the spread of flu in this vulnerable population.”
Eric Linzer, President and CEO of the New York Health Plan Association, said, “Health plans in New York support the Governor’s Executive Order to expand the authority of pharmacists to administer the flu vaccine to children. Given the severity of this year’s flu season, it’s vital we all look at ways to increase vulnerable New Yorkers’ access to vaccinations. This action will help more New Yorkers avoid becoming seriously ill and, in turn, hopefully, keep them from being hospitalized.”
For the last seven weeks, influenza has been geographically widespread across New York. As of January 20th, more than 25,000 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza have been reported, 7,101 people have been hospitalized with influenza and there has been one pediatric flu-related death in New York State this season. During last year’s flu season, there were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations and eight pediatric deaths in New York. Over the last four years, there have been a total of 25 pediatric flu deaths in New York State and an average of 10,571 flu-related hospitalizations a year.
According to the CDC, vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, as long as influenza viruses are circulating. CDC also recommends that people who are very sick or people who are sick who are at high risk of serious influenza complications be treated early with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within two days of symptoms first appearing. There are no current shortages of vaccines or antiviral drugs, and manufacturers report they expect to meet projected seasonal demands.
In addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, it’s important to practice good hand-hygiene:
- Unlike some viruses, influenza is easily killed by soap and hot water.
- Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available. Choose a product with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. People with the flu are infectious for up to 7 days after symptoms begin.
For more information about the flu, visit www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal.
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