HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The latest COVID-19 variant is driving up cases across the nation, but even though the BA.5 variant is being labeled as the more dominant strain, that doesn’t mean it’s as dangerous.

In fact, experts say most cases associated with it are mild.

“As they kind of evolve, they do seem to get more contagious,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center.

Now is not the time to panic, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor.

“We take it seriously enough and utilize the tools that we have to mitigate,” Fauci said.

According to data from the Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention, the BA.5 variant is currently the most dominant strain of COVID.

“It’s the one that’s gotten smart enough to change its protein that will escape immunity,” said Dr. Larissa Check, a resident at Grand Strand Medical Center.

What was once 12 weeks of immunity is now an estimated four, officials said, adding that your body may produce antibodies that will only protect you from a future infection for 28 days. 

“It can change its genetics so much,” Check said. “Its goal is to infect people. It just means the virus has gotten so good at changing its protein that the re-infectivity rate is now within a lesser timeframe.”

That means even those have been vaccinated could be infected by the BA.5 variant. In South Carolina, only about 52% of residents received their completed vaccine series.

“Statistically what we can say, though, is that patients who seem to do better are the vaccinated patients,” Richardson said.

However, the severity of the new strain is something to note. Currently, both Richardson and Check said most cases associated with BA.5 are mild.

“We’re not seeing the level of severe illness with these latter variants than we did early on, especially like with delta and all back in that day, a year and a half ago,” Richardson said.

Although infection is still possible, Richardson and Check said vaccination is still the best option to stay protected.