NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Department of Health is making a big push to encourage people to get the flu shot this year. This year’s Fight Flu ’22 is the 5th consecutive event and comes as Tennessee’s flu cases are among the highest in the country. The most recent flu activity map from the CDC has Tennessee in “very high” category.

“Typically, we see an increase in influenza-like activity, usually towards the end of November and December, and we’re seeing sort of a similar type of.. or like beginning of a flu season, it’s just happening about a month earlier than we would typically see,” said Dr. Caitlin Newhouse, Medical Director, TDH Vaccine-Preventable Diseases & Immunization Program. “For context, we haven’t quite gotten to the point where we typically see our peak during the highest flu seasons, we’re really only kind of at that midway level or so right now.”

Fight Flu ’22 is a coordinated statewide effort by the Tennessee Department Health to get as many vaccines available to people as possible. There are 133 sites across all 95 counties offering free flu vaccine to anyone 6 months and older for free with no appointment necessary.

“The Tennessee Department of Health is committed to helping to improve the health of all of everyone in our state and events like this, where we can get a safe and effective vaccine out into the community, and have it be as accessible to as many people as possible, is really important to our mission,” said Dr. Newhouse.

The CDC estimates up to 7.5 5 million illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths could be prevented every year if more people chose to get the flu vaccine.

“It’s a little bit too early this year to say how effective the flu vaccine is going to be against the the sort of the strains that are going to be circulating and are circulating right now,” said Dr. Newhouse. “However, in the past, the flu vaccine has been very effective at preventing the most severe cases of flu and hospitalizations. And so it is a really important tool that we use to protect our communities.”

She said their vaccination efforts have been off to a great start so far with more than a million flu vaccines reported across Tennessee. Dr. Newhouse explained they have the event during this time of the year because many families are getting ready to visit their loved ones for the holidays.

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“Flu vaccine administration reporting has actually been pretty consistent over the last five to 10 years. So you know, I think it’s really fantastic that we have gotten this great start,” said Dr. Newhouse. “I really encourage everyone to go out and get their flu vaccine and make sure that they are utilizing all the tools in their toolbox to prevent us from having to stay home or, you know, lose days in school and work and pass on those infections to our loved ones.”

Fight Flu ’22 also serves as a statewide preparedness and response exercise. It’s where local public health teams practice their emergency plans to vaccinate communities during a pandemic.

“We make sure that we have the infrastructure in place here with the Department of Health to be able to deploy life-saving medications or vaccines out into the community quickly and in a coordinated effort across the state,” said Dr. Newhouse. “So this exercise is not only important in getting those flu vaccines out, but also in making sure that we are practicing regularly so that if it comes where we need to be able to deploy medications or other vaccines like we did with the COVID vaccine back in 2020 and 2021, we have the infrastructure and we’ve practiced these things.”

CLICK HERE to find the closest vaccination site to you and the hours of operation.