With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise as the flu season gets underway, the state Health Department is ramping up efforts to encourage people to get a flu vaccine.

And do it as soon as possible.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said just about everyone over the age of 6 months should get a vaccine before the end of the year.

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“Most of our pharmacies are vaccinating pretty aggressively. Our primary care physicians (as well). I know that we are receiving 440,000 additional doses of flu vaccine this year,” she said.

Those doses are for a federally funded program that provides free flu shots to New Jersey adults.

Normally the free vaccines are for those in lower-income households that are underinsured or uninsured. But this year the CDC has waived eligibility requirements and made the flu shots available to everyone.

Walgreens, for example, says the flu shot — which they provide through appointment or walk-ins — should be no cost to most customers with their insurance.

The New Jersey Vaccines for Children program, also federally funded, provides free flu shots for children in low-income families with little or no insurance. Last year, the program vaccinated 347,000 children. This year there will be 434,000 vaccines available.

Typically, these vaccinations are given out by federally qualified health centers, local health departments or nonprofit agencies.

Persichilli stressed that all New Jersey residents should get vaccinated for influenza. The state's goal is to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of the year.

“A year ago we had a little bit less than 50% of individuals in New Jersey that got vaccinated for the flu,” she said. “Within that 50%, 73% were children.”

She said part of the reason why flu shots are so important this year, when the COVID pandemic is still in our midst, is to help preserve bed space in hospitals that every year get used by serious cases of the flu. Persichilli said  many intensive-case flu patients also wind up going on ventilators.

“We need to preserve all of that, so the sooner you get vaccinated and build up that immunity, the better off we’ll be overall so that we don’t experience what is now being called a twindemic," she said last week.

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