PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A statewide flu vaccination kicked off Thursday in Providence as health officials warn of the season ahead.

State leaders gathered at the Providence Community Health Centers’ Chafee Health Center to encourage flu shots for all Rhode Islanders who are six months and older.

Flu reports in Australia — which are good predictors of the upcoming season in the Northern Hemisphere — show they saw its worst season in five years.

“The flu is not benign. There are tens of thousands of deaths that we see every year from the flu, potentially hundreds of thousands from hospitalizations, and based on what we have seen in other parts of the world to date we are worried about it and people should consider getting their flu vaccine,” said Dr. Philip Chan, with the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH).

This year’s flu vaccine protects against two influenza “A” strains and two influenza “B” strains, which are what experts think will be circulating in the U.S.

For adults ages 65 and older, two enhanced flu vaccines will be available.

During typical flu seasons prior to COVID-19, RIDOH said the flu would result in more than 1,000 hospitalizations and dozens of deaths. For example, RIDOh reports that during the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu resulted in 1,032 hospitalizations and there were 39 flu-associated deaths.

“Even if you are healthy, you can still spread the flu to someone older or with a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes,” said Dr. Andrew Saal, Chief Medical Officer of the Providence Community Health Centers.

The most common symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, and sore throat, but symptoms can also include body aches, headaches, chills, runny nose, and fatigue.

RIDOH says you can get your flu shot and COVID-19 shot at the same time — you don’t need to wait 14 days between vaccinations.

You can get a flu shot at school clinics that are open to all Rhode Islanders, pharmacies, primary care providers, community clinics and other vaccination venues.