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Gov. Cuomo declares state health emergency for flu season

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a public health emergency for New York State because of the severity of the flu season. 

Cuomo made the announcement Saturday and issued an executive order which allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between six months and 18 years of age. This order suspends for the next 30 days the section of state education law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents only to individuals 18 years of age or older.

"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," Governor Cuomo said. "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." 

There are confirmed cases of flu virus, now in every county of New York state, and all five boroughs of the city. 

"First my husband got it, then my youngest daughter got it and then I got it."  

Michelle Birnbaum, one of more than 19,000 New Yorkers infected with influenza this season.  

"I felt really run down, very congested. It wouldn't stop. I felt very tired, everyone had a temperature," said Birnbaum. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of Emergency order allows pharmacies to give people between six months and 18 years of age the flu vaccine.  

But finding a shot isn't easy -- just ask Pablos Jaes. 

I've been calling a number of local pharmacies and they seem to have run out," said Jaes. 

"We are running low." 

Dr. Hong Choi at City MD Urgent Care says the office will get more this weekend. In the meantime, he warns the virus can spread just about anywhere -- on public transportation surfaces like ATM's -- even the handle at the gas pump. 

"All this leads to higher viral transmission rate. It's easy enough to get it from surfaces people have coughed on or touched after coughing in their hands. So really the best preventive measure at any time is to perform good hand hygiene," said Dr. Choi. 

In all, 47 states are now reporting widespread flu activity. The major virus spreading this season is known as H3N2 -- a stronger than normal strain leading health officials everywhere to say if you can find a shot -- get it. 

"We are really approaching endemic numbers in the New York City area and there is no reason to leave yourself vulnerable without a vaccine," said Choi.

It takes about two weeks after you get a flu shot for full protection. When it does, current research shows it is about 60 percent effective against the flu virus.

The state has set up a website to help New Yorkers find locations to get a shot -- you can find a local vaccine provider by visiting flushot.healthmap.org and entering their zip code. New Yorkers without internet access can call 1-800-522-5006 or through TTY access at 1-800-655-1789 to find a nearby provider.

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