TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — Flu season is drawing closer and medical experts say now is the time for people to get vaccinated before flu season goes into full swing.

While Covid numbers have been high the past few years, doctors said social distancing and masking have helped keep the flu at bay.

In 2020 medical experts said flu season was almost nonexistent and in 2021, numbers stayed low.

With restrictions almost completely in the rearview mirror, doctors and pharmacists are concerned this year’s flu numbers may spike once again.

“One [reason] is nobody’s wearing masks anymore,” said Dr. Grat Correll with Ballad Health. “Two is we’ve all returned to large group gatherings. And three people have gotten a little lackadaisical about getting their flu shots in the last couple of years. And that’s given the bug a couple of years to grow and become more virulent.”

That’s why they’re advising anyone 6 months old and older to get their flu shot within the coming weeks.

“You really want to get your flu shot several weeks before flu hits,” said Dr. Grat. “Usually, we start seeing flu around Thanksgiving time, certainly by Christmas, but it can come as early as October. So now’s really the time to start thinking about getting your flu shot.”

For those 65 and older the CDC recommends a stronger dose.

“It’s called the high dose flu shot, it’s actually the same thing as the regular flu shot, it’s just four times the strength,” said Dr. Correll. “The reason they make it stronger is because people who are older have poor immune systems, it takes more of the vaccine to produce the same response.”

Medical experts said typically it is given automatically to patients over 65, but it is still wise to consult with one’s medical provider.

“We just automatically will give that,” said Tina Head, Pharmacist in Charge of Mooney’s Pharmacy. “If they ask us not to give them that. We will of course counsel them on why that is important to get the high dose and if they want the regular strength, we will give that to them”

Head said they’re already seeing flu cases this early in the season.

“We have some sister stores in the area and they have already seen cases of the flu in children,” said Head. “So if that is any indicator, it could be a worse than normal flu season in the area, especially for our young people.”

While many have ditched the masks and returned to large gatherings, doctors are urging people to still take precautions.

“Don’t go out if you’re feeling ill at all,” said Payton Tipton, Clinical Pharmacist at Ballad Health. “If you’ve been around someone that has had a fever or has feeling ill take precautions and if you have to go out wear a mask when you go out. Just take those kinds of precautions to kind of keep the spread down.”

For those planning on getting both Covid and flu shots this season, doctors said they don’t need to space the vaccinations out.