The bad news is that although it's Aug. 1, the sun is shining, the cool blue water of the swimming pool beckons and the savory fragrance of burgers on the grill wafts on the breeze, the seasonal flu is lying in wait, gearing up for a winter ambush.

The good news is that as much as sun block and mosquito repellent ward off sunburns and bug bites, a flu shot can protect against the fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and all-over-achy misery of the flu.

The better news is that flu shots will be available free of charge this fall at Blue Mountain Health System hospitals in Lehighton and Palmerton, and at community social centers.

"We do drive-through vaccinations every year," said Blue Mountain spokeswoman Lisa Johnson. "This year, we're adding a component: We do them by appointment, at Lehighton and Palmerton, and we also do the drive-throughs. This year, instead of doing two drive-throughs, we're going to do one drive through, and then we're going to be reaching out into the communities, including senior centers. The dates, times and locations will be announced.

"All of our vaccine is provided free of charge from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Even if you have insurance, we do not charge you. The whole point of getting these vaccines in is to get them to the people who need them most," she said.

That includes the elderly, the very young, and those who care for those populations.

So, it's time to mark the calendar.

"It's all about planning," said Deborah Neff, nurse director of the Blue Mountain Health System's emergency department. "People should plan on getting a flu vaccine. Right now, we're in the middle of summer, and people tend not to think about it until its upon them, or somebody gets sick."

Not that people need to rush out and get their flu shots now. But because it takes two or three weeks for the vaccine to become effective, Neff said, one should plan to get a flu shot as early as late September or October.

"But don't think it's too late if you don't get it by November," Neff said. The vaccine will protect through flu season.

Usually, flu season hits hard in January or February, although it can start as early as late November, just in time for the holiday season, and can last through March or April.

Sanofi Pasteur of Swiftwater, the United State's largest supplier of flu vaccine, described seasonal flu as "a serious respiratory illness that is easily spread and can lead to severe complications, even death. Each year in the U.S., 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and an estimated 226,000 people are hospitalized from influenza-related complications.

Influenza seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Depending on virus severity during the influenza season, annual deaths can range from a low of 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. Combined with pneumonia, influenza is the nation's eighth leading cause of death. Vaccination is safe and effective and the best way to help prevent influenza and its complications."

"Seasonal flu can kill you," Neff said. The very young, the very old, and the chronically ill are most at risk.

Sanofi Pasteur has begun shipping the first of its 70 million does of FluzoneĀ® influenza virus vaccine.

However, the vaccine is first shipped to areas that historically have had the greatest need.