With the nation in the grip of a severe influenza outbreak that has seen deaths reach epidemic levels, New York State declared a public health emergency on Saturday, making access to vaccines more easily available.
There have been nearly 20,000 cases of flu reported across the state so far this season, officials said. Last season, 4,400 positive laboratory tests were reported.
“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,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.
Under the order, pharmacists will be allowed to administer flu vaccinations to patients between 6 months and 18 years old, temporarily suspending a state law that prohibits pharmacists from administering immunizations to children.
While children and older people tend to be the most likely to become seriously ill from the flu, Mr. Cuomo urged all New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that deaths from the flu had reached epidemic levels, with at least 20 children having died nationwide. Officials cautioned that deaths from pneumonia and the flu typically reach epidemic levels for a week or two every year. The severity of the outbreak will be determined by how long the death toll remains high or if it climbs higher.
There was some evidence that caseloads may be peaking, federal officials said on Friday.
In New York City, public health officials announced on Thursday that flu-related illnesses had reached epidemic levels, and they joined the chorus of authorities urging people to get vaccinated.