Source: NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency Saturday, as the flu epidemic rocked the nation and hospitals and urgent care centers saw huge crowds.

The declaration allows pharmacists to administer flu shots to anyone between the ages of 6 months and 18 years.

• FLU RESOURCE GUIDE FOR THE TRI-STATE AREA

While the public health emergency may sound scary, Dr. Mary O’Brien at Columbia University said it is no reason to panic.

“The majority of us get the flu, we feel miserable for a week and then we get better,” she said.

O’Brien told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith the main aspect of Cuomo’s order opens up availability for children to get vaccinated.

She added that the governor’s declaration will also raise awareness, and some more people will get the flu shot.

“It’s a very safe shot. It’s an inactive shot,” she said. “It’s not a live vaccine, so it has very few side effects.”

  • Cuomo Declares Public Health Emergency As Flu Epidemic Persists
  • WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reports
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As of Saturday, a total of 19,128 cases of influenza had been reported in New York state for the season, compared with 4,404 for all last season, according to Cuomo’s office. As of last week, the state Department of Health had received reports of 2,884 patients hospitalized with the flu, compared with 1,169 last year.

“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 in a news release. “Therefore, I have directed my administration, the state Health Department and others to marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers – children and adults alike – have access to critically needed flu vaccines.”

To date, two children in New York state and 18 nationwide have died from the flu.

As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, record numbers of people have already fallen ill, and many more have been searching for flu shots.

At one CVS drugstore on Long Island, despite a sign out front saying flu shots are available every day, Mary didn’t have to wait too long to find out she wasn’t getting a flu shot at the CVS.

“I went right over to the consultation desk, but you know, I asked the girl and she said, ‘Only if you’re 65 or older,” she told 1010 WINS’ Gene Michaels.

  • Flu Shots In Short Supply On Long Island
  • 1010 WINS’ Gene Michaels reports
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Down the street, Walgreens had run out of flu shots, even though they had a supply on Friday. Mary is concerned because everyone at work has the flu.

There are also reports that Rite Aid has shortages of the vaccine. The Medford store could not guarantee that there would be any left on Sunday, while Williston Park told customers they should come on Saturday because the supply was low.

The Commack store was out of the vaccine, and West Babylon and Huntington Station have only the high dose for seniors. But Mineola had plenty Saturday.

In fact, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported before the sun even came up, Kevin was at the 24-hour CVS drugstore in Mineola, getting a flu shot.