New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has declared a state of emergency in response to the recent flu outbreak, which the Centers for Disease Control reports has reached “epidemic” levels. Cuomo’s announcement ensures that children will have expanded access to the flu vaccination, since the governor’s order temporarily allows pharmacists to administer flu shots to patients between 6 months and 18 years old.
“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 over the weekend. In addition to New York, 46 other states are also reporting high levels of flu cases this year, and Boston’s mayor also declared a state of public health emergency last week.
Less than half of Americans decided to get a flu shot by the end of December, even though vaccination is the best method to protect against influenza. Expanding access to vaccinations in pharmacies, as New York state is now attempting to do, could help start to address that discrepancy. But some enduring myths about vaccinations, a lack of widespread understanding about the potential dangers of influenza, and the fact that flu shots — unlike vaccinations against mumps and measles — aren’t tied to the ability to attend work or school could also contribute to Americans’ reticence to get the shot.
New York City’s health commissioner points out that it’s still not too late to get a shot. Americans who get vaccinated are about 60 percent less likely to come down with the flu, and public health officials say that some protection is better than nothing at all. However, as public awareness about the flu outbreak has spread and increasing numbers of Americans may be convinced to get a shot, pharmacies are worried about not being able to meet the rising demand.
Fortunately, the CDC reports the worst could be over since the current flu season may have already peaked. That’s especially good news for the 29 states that slashed their public health budgets from 2010 to 2012 and may not be prepared to combat a public health emergency.