The damp chill of late fall that heralds the start of flu season, with its coughs, aches and fevers, seems eons away from these balmy summer days. But a Monroe County manufacturer has already begun shipping the first of 70 million doses of flu vaccine to health care providers across the country.

Sanofi Pasteur, of Swiftwater, which manufactures the seasonal flu vaccine Fluzone, is the largest supplier of flu vaccines among the five licensed manufacturers in the United States. The initial shipment was aimed at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., for its Vaccines for Children program.

This year, the CDC has expanded its recommendation for annual flu vaccinations to include everyone over the age of 6 months. It encourages health care providers to begin offering the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and to continue vaccination efforts throughout the season in order to prevent missed opportunities to protect people from the illness.

The vaccine is right on schedule: According to the CDC, flu season typically begins as early as October, peaks in February, and tapers off by May, so those who have not gotten their immunization early in the season still will have time before the peak of flu season. Vaccination is of value even in December and January, or into the spring, as long as influenza viruses are in circulation, according to Sanofi Pasteur.

Last year, "over 12,000 people died and several hundred thousand were hospitalized" as a result of influenza, said CDC Senior Public Affairs Officer Tom Skinner.

The illnesses included H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu.

"The pandemic strain of H1N1 dominated our season," Skinner said. "The virus impacted young people at a much higher rate than what we normally see with flu."

What's in store for this coming season?

"Bottom line is we can't say for sure what kind of flu season we are going to have," he said. "Flu is unpredictable."

Skinner said that this year's vaccine "contains the strain of H1N1 that dominated our season last year and it also contains an H3N2 strain that has circulated in other parts of the world. The vaccine also contains the same B strain that was in last year's seasonal vaccine."

He said that "based on our analysis of activity in the southern hemisphere, we should have a good match of this year's vaccine compared to what has been circulating. "