We're on the cusp of flu season, with aches, coughs, fever and sore throats looming large.

The flu can be serious business, leading to bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. An average of 36,000 people in the United States die each year from complications of the seasonal flu, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. The very young, the very old, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and asthma are especially at risk.

CDC advises everyone older than 6 months to get the vaccine.

The Blue Mountain Health System is offering free influenza vaccination clinics to anyone over the age of 18 beginning today with a walk-in clinic from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the American Legion Post 927 in Gilbert. Tomorrow (Saturday), a drive-through clinic will offer the free shots from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of the Lehighton Area High School, 1 Indian Lane, Lehighton. On Nov. 4, the shots will be offered from 2-5 p.m. at a drive-through clinic at the Palmerton Fire Company, 3rd Ave. and Ave. A in Palmerton.

All clinics will remain open as long as the vaccine lasts, said Blue Mountain spokeswoman Lisa Johnson. People must arrive in vehicles for the drive-through clinics; no walk-ups will be given shots.

She urged people to take advantage of the free shots.

"While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it's especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications," Johnson said. "Our drive-through makes it so convenient. It takes less than a minute to get the shot. And if you're a little squeamish, just mention that to the nurse and we'll help you through it."

Blue Mountain had help in delivering the vaccines.

"We couldn't do these events without the help of the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency, the CERT volunteers and the PA Department of Health. We also use these drive-through clinics as emergency preparedness drills in the event we would need to do a mass inoculation. And last year with the H1N1 flu, it certainly provided us with the opportunity to put our plans into action," Johnson said.

This year's flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three flu viruses that CDC expects will cause the most illness in the United States this season. The three viruses are: an A/California/7/2009 (a swine flu-like virus); an A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)–like virus and a B/Brisbane/60/2008–like virus, according to CDC.

Six manufacturers anticipate having as many as 160-165 million doses of the vaccine available for the 2010-2011 flu season. About 74 million doses of thimerosal-free vaccines are also expected to be available.