New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a public health emergency Saturday in response to a severe flu season -- issuing an executive order that allows pharmacists to give flu shots to people younger than 18.
"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.
More than 19,000 cases of influenza have already been reported statewide this season -- more than four times the amount reported during the same period a year ago, Cuomo's office said.
As of Jan. 5, the state Department of Health had received reports of nearly 2,900 patients hospitalized with the flu. That's more than double the number for the entire season in 2011.
Pharmacists may now administer the flu vaccine for the next 30 days to children as young as 6 months. State law currently prohibits pharmacists from giving the vaccine to minors.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the vaccination is effective in 62 percent of flu cases.
Two New York State children and 18 youngsters nationwide have died from the flu this season, CDC officials said.
"Governor Cuomo's action is helpful as it will allow people more access to flu shots, which is the most important method of prevention," Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said Saturday.
Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein added that the executive order will help residents "protect themselves and their families from this serious illness."
Nassau is on pace to see a major uptick in influenza cases this season, officials said. There were 1,041 cases reported in November and December, compared with just 32 during that period in 2011.
In Suffolk, there were 1,134 cases confirmed in November and December, compared with seven in 2011, officials said.
The flu season peaks in January and February and ends as late as May.