Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is calling on pharmacies to join a state program that provides immunizations to children regardless of their parents’ or guardians’ ability to pay — his latest salvo against the flu epidemic that continues to claim lives across the nation.
An estimated 6,300 children in New York have been inoculated against the flu as a result of a Jan. 25 executive order by Cuomo that expanded access to flu shots.
In his announcement Monday, the governor said he was altering that executive order to add a 30-day budget amendment that encourages pharmacies to enroll in the New York State Vaccines for Children Program.
The original executive order suspended state law that prohibited pharmacists from administering flu vaccinations to children, authorizing them to give the flu shot to those ages 2 to 18 during the epidemic.
Cuomo’s latest announcement comes as officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties announced more free flu shots at clinics this week and as the New York City Department of Health on Monday confirmed the fourth pediatric flu death in the five boroughs. The child was a 5-year-old girl who lived in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, according to news reports.
The city health department would not provide identifying details about the child, citing patient privacy laws. However, while the department confirmed that the child had the flu, health officials could not say whether there were underlying medical conditions that exacerbated the respiratory infection.
In New York State, a total of five children have died as a result of influenza since the season for the illness began in October. To date, an estimated 8,317 children statewide have been diagnosed with laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, according to state Department of Health data.
Nationwide, 63 children had died of the flu as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When all ages are taken into account, the illness is reported to have caused one in every 10 deaths during the first week of February, the CDC said then.
Federal health officials said this flu season is one of the worst on record. Infections are being caused by a range of viral strains, but the majority of serious illnesses leading to hospitalizations are being caused by the A strain of flu known as H3N2.
In Nassau and Suffolk counties, free flu shots are being given at clinics on Tuesday and Thursday. The clinics are an extension of those offered during the weekend, when more than 250 people lined up for their shots, according to officials in each county.
Clinics in Nassau County will be Tuesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the WIC Office in Hempstead and Thursday from 7:30 to 10 a.m. at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury.
In Suffolk, clinics will be Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Riverhead Library and Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.
Since the flu season began, the state Health Department said there had been 15,753 confirmed influenza cases and 2,349 people hospitalized in the week that ended Feb. 3.
On Long Island, influenza has been increasing exponentially. There have been 3,864 laboratory-confirmed cases in Nassau since the flu season began in October and 3,723 such cases in Suffolk.
Federal, state and local public health officials caution that laboratory-confirmed figures refer only to those people who seek medical attention and for whom a culture is taken. Many people self-treat the flu, and those instances of the infection go uncounted.
With Lisa Irizarry