New Yorkers scrambled to get flu shots this weekend after Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency to combat the rising number of influenza cases in the state.
Gov. Cuomo declared the state of emergency late on Saturday giving pharmacists permission to administer flu vaccinations to more people as officials seek to stem the worst flu outbreak in the state in several years.
“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 on Saturday.
Some pharmacies even ran out of flu vaccines, frustrating stressed New Yorkers who lined up for them around the five boroughs.
New Yorker Erika Belle said people were pushing and shoving when she tried to get a shot in Midtown. They were told only 20 vaccines remained, she said.
“That’s when the pushing to grab the forms started and the panic,” she said.
Then, pharmacy employees told them doses had arrived and, “Folks calmed down.”
Ten people have died so far this year of flu-related illnesses, according to the Health Department.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data last week reporting that New York City specifically experienced high flu activity.
The New York Governor’s office said 19,128 cases of influenza have been reported this season, compared with 4,404 tests for the entire 2011-12 period.
A Duane Reade spokeswoman said some of their pharmacies had run out of the vaccine, but promised those stores would have refills within 48 hours.
“There are lines,” said Shanay Barrow, a pharmacy technician at the CVS on 34th between Second and Third Avenues, which ran out of the vaccine. “They’re like one after another.”
The Health Department has classified January flu activity as “high.” They reported 40 outbreaks and more than 400 people sick. Twenty outbreaks were at long-term care facilities, as were the deaths, a Department spokeswoman said.
Health Department data shows flu-related emergency room visits spiking in late December and remaining high until Jan. 5, the most recent data available.
Last week, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley urged New Yorkers who hadn’t already to get their shots.
“Influenza activity in New York City is increasing, and we encourage any New Yorkers who have not received their flu vaccination to do so immediately,” he said.
Walgreens, which owns Duane Reade, said they have already given more flu shots nationwide than all of last season – 5.7 million shots so far.
“This season is becoming one of the worst in the decade,” spokesman Calvin Peters said about the city. “This week we have been providing flu shots at a rate that is more typical of October, which is normally the peak time when people get their flu shot.”
Running out of vaccines
A pharmacist at a Duane Reade on 34th and Third said Friday they were still stocked with flu shots, but added, “I can’t say for how long.”
Shanay Barrow, a pharmacy technician at the CVS on 34th between Second and Third Avenues, said they ran out of vaccines Thursday and were not expecting a shipment for days.
“It’s been overwhelming,” she said of customers coming in “one after another.” “Everyone’s freaking out.”
Last year, she added, they may have given out four or five shots a day. “These days, it’s like 40-some each day.”
Where to get a vaccine?
Vaccines are available at local drugstores, most doctor’s offices and Health Department immunization clinics, Farley said. Call 311 to find out specific locations