NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The flu season in Tennessee is already here, as the Volunteer State is seeing an uptick.

Experts have predicted this year will be severe.

“This is not 2020, we know what we can do to prevent serious disease, and we know what we must do to keep people safe,” said Brian Hailie, CEO of the Neighborhood Health Clinic.

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Since last week, Neighborhood Clinic has been offering free flu shots and COVID-19 boosters. On Monday, in order to combat vaccine hesitancy, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman and Haile both rolled up their sleeves to get their flu shots. Doctors say now is the ideal time to get your flu shot.

“We in Middle Tennessee have so many individuals with asthma or COPD, or other kinds of illnesses, that really put them at risk. If they contract influenza or COVID, they could develop very serious symptoms potentially requiring hospitalization,” explained Halie.

Halie said it starts with vaccines. Clinics like Neighborhood Health are urging people to get them now, rather than later.

“We used to say, get your child vaccinated before they went trick-or-treating. Knowing the seasonality of viruses has been all over the place with COVID, we recommend getting the flu shot as early as you can,” said Dr. James Antoon with the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital.

Experts look at the Southern Hemisphere for guidance on how harsh the flu season will be.

“What has it been like in the Southern Hemisphere, and this year in the southern hemisphere they had a pretty bad flu season, especially in Australia, and to us that would predict a significant flu season coming into the United States,” explained Dr. Antoon.

This year is set to hit children especially hard. After two years of living through a pandemic, many are surrounded by peers for the first time.

“We know that children, especially those less than five years old, are at a high risk of having complications from the flu, and this year there are children who are two, three and four years old who have never been exposed to the flu, and so it’s possible that these children are going to get sicker this year than they would have previous years because they have no immunity to flu yet,” Dr. Antoon said.

Everyone over the age of six months old is encouraged to get a shot this year.

“We’ll be offering these all through the fall, but we ask people to get their flu shot and their COVID booster just as soon as they can. The sooner you get your shot, the sooner you have protection, and the easier you and all of us can breathe,” said Haile.

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Doctors advise that if you have any flu-like symptoms, to wear a mask, stay home, and wash your hands.