BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Chief Medical Officer for Kern Medical Dr. Glenn Goldis says the omicron variant is concerning for local health officials, but not much is known about what kinds of effects it could have on infected patients or if vaccines would provide the same high levels of protection they currently provide.

Goldis joined Alex Fisher on 17 News at Sunrise on Monday and said the omicron variant is a derivative of a variant traced to South Africa. He said the omicron variant has 32 mutations in its spike proteins — many more than delta, Goldis says — and it could make vaccines less effective against it.

But it’s still too early to tell about how the variant interacts with vaccines and how severe infections are compared to the delta variant. “Omicron is competing with delta for hosts,” Goldis said, and it’s believed to be as infectious as the delta variant.

Goldis said it is also still unclear about how the omicron variant affects the body in terms of symptoms, hospitalizations and death. He said symptoms in patients in South Africa have been mild, but noted the population was younger. “It will probably take a couple weeks before we know more,” he said.

Vaccinations are recommended for everyone over age 5, Goldis said. People over 18 are also encouraged to get a booster shot, six months after their second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two months after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“We want to see people protect themselves against all the variants as well as the original coronavirus,” Goldis said. “If you get flu vaccine as well, to protect you from the flu that might help lower your risk of complications from other diseases.”

Goldis also encourages people to get a flu vaccine and to wear masks.

“It’s important also that we keep in mind that the masking and the distancing and all of that still applies, especially if you’re going to be in a crowded area or you’re going to be traveling amongst strangers.”

Goldis said he and other officials will be focusing on hospitalizations and death rates.

“We’re concerned about capacity to handle yet another surge here in Kern County, we are currently seeing some relief from the prior surge and I’m hoping that it won’t surge again.”