WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Worldwide concern is growing over the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant as residents begin to worry if it will reach Florida.
At a Palm Beach County Health Care District mobile vaccine site, Rhonda DeSousa was getting a COVID booster shot and admitted she has heard about the Omicron variant.
"I want all the protection I can get," DeSousa said in the parking lot of the Palm Beach County School District. "We really don't know how much of a concern it'll be yet."
"I'm not scared of it. I heard they already got two persons in Canada that's contracted that, and it's coming from Africa," said resident Isidore Rodriguez.
Rodriguez got his booster shot and is hoping to have extra protection against omicron.
Dr. David Dodson of West Palm Beach agrees much more needs to be learned about the latest variant, which has been reported in several countries including South Africa and Canada.
"It seems to be more contagious than [the] delta [variant] based on early information that we have from South Africa," Dodson said.
Dodson said we shouldn't panic, but we definitely need to be concerned as the virus is being detected in other countries, and Florida readies for a high-volume tourist season.
"It seems to have spread to a lot of countries already. Travel bans, at best, may slow the spread, but they won't prevent it, and I suspect we already have cases in the United States that we just haven't identified yet," Dodson said.
Health experts still don't know enough about omicron at this point to determine if it is more or less dangerous than other variants.
Dodson said how we respond to this new development will be crucial.
"The course of this pandemic depends on human behavior, and if people are stubborn enough not to get vaccines, that'll prolong this pandemic," Dodson said.
Studies are also being conducted on how well the current vaccines work at stopping the new variant.
In the meantime, medical experts say it's best to get the vaccine and booster shots.
"For people who have been vaccinated, the boosters are important because that'll raise their level of immunity," Dodson said. "The virus spreads fast and best among unvaccinated people."