EDMONTON -- Free flu shots are available to Albertans beginning today, and health officials are expecting a surge in demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Free flu shots are available by appointment at pharmacies or through family doctors. To keep people safe, walk-in centres that have operated in past years will not be available.

Families with children under five years old can call Health Link or book an appointment online through the AHS website.

Alberta’s top doctor says getting the flu shot is even more important this year.

“We can’t yet prevent COVID-19 with a vaccine but we can help stop the flu from taxing our health system,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “The more we can avoid influenza-related tests emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs.”

The province has ordered a record 1.96 million vaccines this year, a 20 per cent increase from last year.

According to Alberta Health Services, 74,823 Albertans had booked appointments as of 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 19.