With the nation in the grip of a severe influenza outbreak that has seen deaths reach epidemic levels, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency for New York State 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.

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.

"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," Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

While children and older people tend to be the most likely to become seriously ill from the flu, Cuomo urged all new Yorkers to get vaccinated.

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