CALGARY -- Pharmacists and health officials are bracing for flu season which is expected to be unlike any other with the presence of COVID-19.

The provincial government has ordered approximate 1,960,000 doses of the flu vaccine this year. It’s a record, according to Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

“While we encourage all Albertans to get immunized as early as possible, the influenza season has not yet arrived. Please be patient if it takes a few days to get immunized. This will still help protect you for the flu season to come,” he said in an email to CTV News.

The influenza immunization program officially begins Oct. 19.

The flu shot will be available across the province for anyone age five and up at no cost.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is also offering immunizations by appointment for those under five years old and those in their household.

The province’s top doctor is strongly encouraging the flu vaccine to prevent the health-care system from being overloaded with numerous respiratory illnesses.

“We can’t yet prevent COVID-19 with a vaccine but we can help stop the flu from taxing our health system,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

A Calgary pharmacist says he’s already seeing an increased interest in the flu vaccine.

“We’ve already got a lineup of people that we anticipate will be coming in next week and usually the first two to three weeks are the busiest,” said Rahim Rajan, who also owns Capsule Clinic pharmacy in Victoria Park.

calgary, influenza, flu shot, vaccine, covid-19, i

He said it’s too soon to assess how the spread of influenza will be affected by COVID-19’s safety measures like physical distancing and increased hand washing.

“I think the messaging is already out there and I think we should be doing our part to make sure we are doing our best to prevent contracting the illness,” he added. “Hopefully we can minimize the spread of respiratory tract infections in general.”

AHS officials say the doses of vaccine have already been shipped to pharmacies and physician’s clinics and will be delivered throughout the month.

Wait-times are expected to vary, so calling ahead to numerous locations is recommended. Those who are eligible may also book an appointment with AHS using the online booking tool.