Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is making it much easier for children to receive the flu shot - even if their families can't afford it. The Governor is calling on pharmacies to provide free flu shots to New York State children as part of the Vaccines for Children Program.
The decision comes in the wake of a particularly awful flu season, which the CDC has compared to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
Across the U.S., hospitals are overrun and emergency department staff are working double shifts, prompting some areas to declare a state of emergency. In New York State, 11,802 people have been hospitalized with influenza this season alone.
In January, Governor Cuomo took matters into his own hands and signed an executive order that encourages pharmacies to enrol in the Vaccines for Children Program. On Monday, Cuomo extended that order for another 30 days.
Children, especially those younger than 5 years, are at serious risk of flu-related complications, according to the CDC website. Already, this year's influenza virus has reportedly killed at least 53 children so far.
Luckily, we have a vaccine. According to a 2017 study from the CDC, the flu vaccination "can significantly reduce a child's risk of dying from influenza." The study found the flu shot reduces the risk of flu-associated death by 51 percent among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by 65 percent among healthy children.
"As flu diagnoses continue to grow, we must do everything we can to ensure all New Yorkers have access to the flu vaccine to protect them now and in the future," Governor Cuomo said.
"I urge all New Yorkers to protect themselves and their families, get a flu shot and join us in stamping out the spread of this dangerous virus."
Under Cuomo's executive order, pharmacies that join the Vaccines for Children Program must provide shots to every child under the age of 19. To receive the free shot, the child must be uninsured, under-insured, Native American or an Alaska Native, enrolled in Medicaid or eligible for Medicaid, or enrolled in "Child Health Plus".
The original executive order also made it temporarily legal for pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to children ages 2 to 18.
Since the Governor signed the executive order on January 25, 2018, more than 6,300 New Yorkers ages 2 to 18 have been vaccinated at pharmacies.
"After the Governor signed the executive order allowing pharmacists to administer the flu vaccine to children, we've seen an increase in the number of families taking advantage of this initiative and it makes perfect sense to make this permanent," said Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State's Department of Health Commissioner.
"The flu continues to be widespread in our state and if you haven't yet been vaccinated, get vaccinated soon as possible."