CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- With the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant comes new questions, fears, and unease surrounding its entry into the US population.
The variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in at least 16 states across the U.S.
"It's distressing news," said UNC's Dr. David Weber. "It's from a whole different lineage; different line of SARS CoV-2."
It comes as health experts and elected officials have told Americans, "it is cause for concern, but don't panic.' Weber added, "The concern, therefore, is how much, if any more, transmissible it is and is it more virulent, more likely to cause severe disease. And does it escape from some of our therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and or vaccines?"
Among the unknowns is how well the current COVID-19 booster shot will perform against Omicron. Additionally, experts have said the vaccine is currently the best bet against contracting a serious illness as a result of the virus.
"A substantial amount of time, money, and scientific resources are being put forward and public health resources to learn more about the Omicron variant," said Weber.
In spite of this admission and discovery, Weber does not believe now is the time to roll back on any mandates or other forms of mitigation control.
"Because new variants develop. And this one wasn't just a few small mutations of Delta," he said. "If we can drive down the susceptible population by much wider use of vaccines, so then that will decrease the likelihood of new variants developing."
Weber said vaccine makers and researchers are currently working on an Omicron booster. He also hopes children as young as 6 months old will be vaccine-eligible early next year.
That should help, he said, bring the numbers down and eventually get the US back to near-normal by late spring or early summer 2022.