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ALPENA, Mich. — This week, officials identified the Omicron variant in California, confirming that it’s made its way to the US.

We spoke to an expert about what this variant could mean for Michiganders.

Dr. Jim Grant is the chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He said variants develop over time as viruses stockpile mutations.

Most of the Omicron variant’s mutations involve its spike proteins – the part which lets it invade our cells.

He said some mutations resemble those in the highly–contagious Delta variant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s deadlier.

“What they’ve seen in South Africa with Omicron is it spreads much easier. But initial reports say you aren’t as sick, especially in a heavily-vaccinated population.”

However, Dr. Grant emphasizes we still have more to learn and the best course of action is to exercise caution.

In the meantime, he says vaccination is key, especially for Michigan, which had the highest number of cases nationally in November.

Even in the event of a breakthrough case, Grant said immunized patients have better outcomes.

“If you look at our patients succumbing to the disease, for the most part – over 85 or 90% of the time – they’re our unvaccinated patients. So what would happen if you have a friend with the vaccine but still got sick? He or she- if they didn’t have the vaccine- would have been so much sicker. Who knows if they would have survived COVID?”

Dr. Grant also said getting immunized means the virus has a lower chance of using our cells to reproduce. If they can’t reproduce, they can’t mutate. And fewer mutations means lower odds of trouble for the rest of us down the line.