Start thinking about flu shot.

The sooner, the better.

With an ample supply of flu vaccines this year and clinics already scheduled all over the area, health officials encourage residents to go ahead and get their shots now.

“The flu vaccines are plentiful this year. If it’s available and they can get it, they should get it,” said Linda Woods, a nurse supervisor with the Prince William Health District. Woods also administers the district’s immunization program. “We encourage everybody to. We certainly encourage everybody at high risk to get it as soon as they can.”

Those at highest risk for complications from flu include those 65 and older; children six to 23 months old; residents of long-term care facilities; those with chronic heart or lung disease, including asthma; those with chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes, kidney dysfunction, blood disorders or immune system problems; children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy; pregnant women; health care professionals and any household contact or care providers of children under six months of age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu vaccine manufacturers plan to produce and distribute more than 100 million doses in the United States. That’s 19 million more doses than were available last year.

“Our goal, and the goal of those who provide influenza vaccine, is to use every available dose so that we protect as many people as possible,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director.

Each year in the United States, between five and 20 percent of the population is infected with flu, about 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized because of influenza complications, according to the CDC.

“People will have [many] opportunities to be vaccinated during October and November, as well as December or later,” said Dr. Lance Rodewald, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division. The best time, however, to get a flu shot is before the season starts, which typically is in December.

Vaccinations can still provide protection in December and later because most years the flu season does not peak until February or later.

“They just need to get them when they can. They can check all their options, check with their doctors but just get one,” Woods said.

The Prince William Health District also will offer flu vaccines this season to the public when it receives its supply.

“At this point though I don’t know when that will be, but we will let you know,” Woods said.