Action Directs Counties to Promote and Provide Expanded Vaccination Access
Overall 35% Increase in Lab Confirmed Flu Cases and 2% Increase in Hospitalizations Since Last Week
More Than 5,400 New Yorkers Ages 2-18 Vaccinated at Pharmacies Since Governor's Executive Order January 25
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to authorize emergency assistance funding to counties as flu diagnoses continued to increase in communities across the state. This action provides enhanced reimbursement to counties and will help fund expanded efforts to promote and increase access to flu vaccines statewide. Governor Cuomo is calling on all 58 local health departments to expand efforts to more readily accommodate New Yorkers still needing a flu shot.
"As flu diagnoses and hospitalizations continue to increase to epidemic proportions, this administration is doing everything in its power to protect New Yorkers from this especially durable strain of influenza," Governor Cuomo said. "I ask all New Yorkers to take advantage of this expanded access to flu vaccines and join us in slowing down and stopping the spread of this virus in the Empire State."
With 15,753 laboratory confirmed influenza cases reported to the New York State Department of Health, and 2,349 New Yorkers hospitalized with confirmed influenza, these numbers are again the highest weekly numbers in both categories since reporting began in 2004 and exceed last week's record high 11,683 confirmed cases and 2,221 hospitalizations.
The Department of Health's website links to each local health department providing the public a one-stop-shop approach to individual counties' expanded efforts. Additionally, the HealthMap Vaccine Finder also identifies locations where vaccines can be found at other locations in New York State at www.vaccinefinder.org.
Governor Cuomo has also directed local health departments to re-focus enhanced outreach to vulnerable populations, including daycares, nursing homes, senior centers, and homeless shelters, to reemphasize the need for flu vaccinations, provide targeted education regarding the signs and symptoms of flu, and to identify and assist those populations with low vaccine rates. Furthermore, local health departments will coordinate with local school superintendents to identify schools experiencing an increase in absenteeism rates due to illness among students and staff and link them to ongoing education and vaccination efforts. These partnerships will further ensure effective education and guidance is provided to protect children.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "We need to make sure all New Yorkers understand how to protect themselves and their families and communities from this epidemic. From getting the flu shot to hand washing to covering your mouth when you cough, everyone can help prevent the flu. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, the Department of Health is working with local health departments and other state agencies to ensure increased access to the flu vaccine and educate New Yorkers."
- Host statewide conference calls and/or webinars, along with the State Education Department, for Superintendents and School Nurses, to provide guidance on school-based influenza prevention and facility disinfection.
- Distribute a bulletin to all state employees, including direct care providers, about their role in ongoing statewide influenza prevention efforts.
- Coordinate with pharmacies to provide expanded information on vaccine availability, ages served, and hours available on the Department and pharmacy websites.
- Promote the posting of seasonal influenza educational materials, which may be ordered from the Department of Health or printed by businesses and individuals.
Last month, the Governor signed an executive order allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18 - increasing vaccine accessibility for New York children and families as influenza continues to spread across New York. The executive order 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. As a result of the Executive Order, more than 5,400 children have been reported as being vaccinated in pharmacies.
For the last nine weeks, influenza has been geographically widespread across New York. As of February 3rd, 52,567 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza have been reported, 11,802 people have been hospitalized with influenza and there have been three pediatric flu-related deaths 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 flu season, as long as influenza viruses are circulating. CDC also recommends that people who are very sick or people who are at high risk of serious influenza complications be treated early with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within 48 hours of symptoms first appearing. Included in this week's report is a single case of resistance to antiviral medications. It's the first finding in New York State this flu season, and first finding in New York State since the 2012-2013 flu season. The Department will continue to monitor antiviral resistance and will inform clinicians on findings if a trend emerges. The Department is aware of some localized shortages of specific formulations of influenza antivirals, particularly the oseltamivir oral suspension and generic oseltamivir capsules. The Department is working with providers to make sure they are aware of all potential sources of these medications. Additionally, the Department is also closely monitoring vaccine supply but still encourage residents to call ahead to providers.
In addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, it's essential 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 seven days after symptoms begin.
Dr. Carol Smith, Commissioner of Health and Mental Health, Ulster County Department of Health and President, NYSACHO said, "NYSACHO fully supports the Governor's and New York State DOH's initiative to increase the numbers of our citizens who are vaccinated against the flu. Vaccination is the best way to protect our community from the potentially deadly effects of the flu virus."
For more information about the flu, visit: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal.