NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Amid overwhelming demand -- and with concern growing over the emerging omicron variant -- New York City is offering second COVID vaccine doses starting Tuesday at its public schools.
In-school vaccination clinics were so popular during the first round earlier this month that the city decided to bring them back to hundreds of schools, including PS 40 in Gramercy.
The clinics are offering second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to children as young as 5.
Right now, only 16% percent of NYC school kids age 5 to 11 have gotten their first shot, and officials want to dramatically boost those numbers.
The city's popular $100 vaccine incentive does apply to youngsters if they are vaccinated at a city-run site, including schools.
School vaccine schedules can be found at Schools.nyc.gov/COVID19, and school leaders are also sending home communications with students.
Meantime, four months after the city staged a massive reopening concert, Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking people to put their masks back on.
The city is strongly encouraging people to wear masks in all indoor settings ahead of the expected arrival of the omicron variant, though the mayor stressed it was an advisory and not a mandate.
"We did put out the mask advisory to say formally, in a way more than we've done previously, it's time to use the masks in a lot of settings," he said. "But the key strategy is vaccination. If something changes, of course, a mask mandate is an option. But it's not one we're using right now."
The mayor says 88% of New York City adults have gotten at least one shot, and close to a million have received boosters. Still, the number of new cases in unvaccinated people far exceeds instances among fully vaccinated people.
So far, New York has no confirmed cases of the omicron variant, but experts say it's only a matter of time, with initial data suggesting this variant may spread even easier than the delta variant.
Health experts say your best defense remains vaccination and boosters.
"We don't know exactly what's going on with this variant, but I would assume -- and I think it's a reasonable assumption -- that when you get vaccinated and boosted and your level goes way up, you're going to have some degree of protection, at least against severe disease," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said previous infection may not provide protection due to the number of mutations on the variant.
"Preliminary evidence suggests that those who've had COVID-19 in the past may be more easily re-infected with omicron," he said.
Experts say it's just one more reason to get vaccinated.
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