When Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted his sleeve to get a flu shot Thursday, then declared a public health emergency for New York state two days later, people took notice.
In the thick of what health officials are calling the worst nationwide influenza outbreak in four years, people who weren’t motivated earlier are now following the governor’s lead and heading to pharmacies, clinics and doctors’ offices for a flu shot.
“We’ve seen a big surge of people that are coming in that heard, either through the news or the governor’s [announcement],” said Michael O’Brien, physician assistant at Scotia-Glenville Family Medicine in Ballston, who had already diagnosed two cases of the flu by Monday at noon.
The majority of those being diagnosed at Scotia-Glenville Family Medicine have not had the flu shot, he noted.
An executive order enacted by the governor Saturday along with the health emergency permits pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to children six months of age and older, suspending for one month a law that prohibits them from immunizing anyone younger than age 18.
Marra’s Health Mart Pharmacy in Cohoes received calls Monday from people interested in having their children vaccinated, said pharmacist Jessica Marchese.
“Since the governor was on TV and received a flu shot himself, we’ve seen a great increase in our administration of flu shots,” she commented, noting that the majority of those getting the shot have been adults.
Reports of widespread flu outbreaks have led to vaccine shortages caused by increased demand at some New York City pharmacies and clinics.
The city’s Health Department on Monday said the shortages are in individual locations and don’t reflect a large supply problem.
Sporadic shortages are being reported at CVS stores in New York, according to spokesman Mike DeAngelis. “We are resupplying affected stores as quickly as possible,” he said in an email.
CVS is still working out some details to allow its pharmacists to vaccinate minors, he said.
The number of influenza immunization doses on hand at St. Peter’s Health Partners in Albany is getting slim, reported Elmer Streeter, director of corporate communications. The institution provides flu shots solely for staff members.
“We have not run out yet, but we aren’t able to buy as much as we would like right now,” he said.
O’Brien reported that Scotia-Glenville Family Medicine ran out of flu vaccines at one point this season, but was quickly resupplied.
“Now they’re keeping up with demand pretty well,” he said.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an early estimate about the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine. Streeter worried it might actually deter people from getting the flu shot.
“Some might see that it’s 62 percent effective and say, ‘Well, that’s not that much better than half,’ but the fact is, you’re 62 percent less likely to get the flu if you have the immunization,” he reasoned, noting that those who have received the vaccine and still contract the flu seem to suffer with a significantly less severe form of the illness.
James Hopsicker, vice president of pharmacy for MVP Health Care, said the flu vaccine is very effective this year.
“If it’s appropriate for you to get the flu vaccination, it’s not too late. You should absolutely get vaccinated,” he said in an email. “If you haven’t already received a flu vaccination, it might take a little bit of effort to get one, but it is worth it. Most people have several options on where they can get vaccinated: at their doctor’s office, maybe at a clinic at work or in their community, or at many retail pharmacies.”
This season, Ellis Medicine has seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in flu cases compared to last season at all three of its campuses, according to Dr. Roger Barrowman, chairman of the department of emergency services. That percentage spiked even higher for a period of time at the medical care provider’s Clifton Park site, he noted.
“It was pretty significant. It led to a lot of crowding and additional [emergency department] visits and so on. I think over the last three or four days, we’ve just started to see a little bit of a decline in it, so we might be past peak,” he said.
On Friday, Capital Region medical care providers, including Ellis Medicine acute care hospitals, patient units of Albany Medical Center, Glens Falls Hospital, St. Peter’s Health Partners acute care hospitals, and Saratoga Hospital, adopted visitation guidelines designed to help protect patients from the flu.
The institutions have requested that children 12 and under, and visitors with respiratory symptoms like a fever, sore throat, cough, and shortness of breath, avoid visiting, along with those who have a rash or diarrhea. Patients are being limited to two visitors in their hospital room at a time.
The hospitals are also urging visitors to use hand-washing stations before entering and upon leaving a patient’s room.