ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Thursday allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18, a move to combat the growing influenza epidemic in New York and around the nation.

State health officials say there were 7,500 confirmed cases of the flu across the state and more than 1,750 New Yorkers hospitalized this past week alone – surpassing last week’s previous high of 1,606 such cases.

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“With flu cases reaching epidemic proportions in New York, we must do everything in our power to fight this virus and keep New Yorkers safe,” Cuomo said. “Once again, I urge all New Yorkers to help us combat this quick-spreading strain of flu and make sure they and their loved ones are vaccinated.”

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The Executive Order, effective Thursday, suspends the section of state education law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to anyone under age 18 to allow vaccines to be administered to anyone age 2 and up.

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Parents and guardians are encouraged to call pharmacies ahead of their visit to ensure they are ready to receive patients in this age group. Children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months must see their primary care provider for the vaccination.