The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) is launching its annual campaign Saturday to remind New Yorkers to get their flu and COVID shots. Nexstar contributor WTEN spoke to Assembly member and pharmacist John McDonald to get the latest.

This year, the NYSDOH is saying flu cases are on the rise earlier than previously recorded years, urging all those who are eligible to get and update their vaccines.

“Two to three weeks ago, we began to start to see cases in New York State and now it’s significantly increasing and it’s not surprising when you really think about it. Where we are two years ago, two years ago we had hardly any flu at all because everybody was wearing one of these, a mask,” explained McDonald.

The NYSDOH says that flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms which can make it hard to decipher the difference.

“There’s not too many significant differences, to be honest with you. That’s been part of the challenge in most circumstances. Sometimes in the flu, you have more nasal discharges or chest discharges,” said McDonald.

The NYSDOH is recommending anyone 12 and over check on their COVID-19 booster availability and that anyone six months or older get the shots. Anyone who is immunocompromised or over the age of 65 is also urged to get the jabs.

“Now, we’re back to living normally, which is great and we’re happy about that. But, at same token, we need to be reminded that influenza is real. Influenza is serious. It can take tens of thousands of lives a year,” says McDonald.

McDonald also suggested a few ways to mitigate the spread.

‘’Vaccinate to protect yourself. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. And, by the way, if you do start to have the symptoms, contact your primary care provider. Start the treatments and do the best you can do,” exclaimed McDonald.

Flu season runs through the fall and winter months, and with flu being widespread across N.Y., the NYSDOH is suggesting getting vaccinated as soon as possible.