NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — We’re in a race against the COVID-19 virus, according to one of the nation’s leading infectious diseases experts.

The omicron variant is spreading in parts of the world and outbreaks are appearing more, even infecting vaccinated people.

“The race is this virus is going to keep mutating and new variants are going to keep popping up,” Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry College, said.

The omicron variant is in Tennessee with two cases confirmed in Shelby County.

“The omicron variant has a spike protein that’s really, really different from all the ones that we’ve seen before, and it looks like the changes in that protein make it more likely to cause infection, but makes it less likely that the antibodies that the vaccine generate are going to bind to it,” Hildreth said.

Tennessee hospitals are seeing firsthand the impact the variant is having.

Ballad Health in Northeast Tennessee reports 245 people there are hospitalized with 222 of them being unvaccinated.

“It is not a surprise that most people who are getting sick, really sick and who are dying or being hospitalized are unvaccinated, because there’s no protection against the virus that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

Hildreth took to Twitter, recommending adjustments to cloth masks wearers as omicron seems considerably more transmissible.

“I strongly recommend they put procedure masks under their cloth masks, just to achieve the best level of protection.”

According to health experts, boosters offer significant protection against the omicron variant.

“The first thing and single most important thing is to go get the vaccine if you don’t have one, and do the whole series – get the first shot, the second shot, wait six months or the recommended time to get a booster,” Hildreth said.

While doctors say it’s still early, signs point to omicron being highly transmissible, but does not necessarily cause more severe illness compared to previous variants.