GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – According to doctors, the new COVID-19 variants could prove to be more contagious than what’s been spreading over the last year.

Doctors believe current vaccines will offer protection. They also believe it’s not the only protection people need. They say masks are a must.

“For the South African one, we’re not as convinced that it’s as effective but it probably has some effectiveness,” said Dr Paul Cook, an infectious disease specialist at East Carolina University.

Cook treats COVID-19 patients daily. He’s learning about the newest COVID-19 variants around the world, strains from South Africa, Brazil and Britain. One was even discovered last week in Charlotte.

Will current COVID vaccine’s stop them?

“It may be that these variants may be less affected by the vaccine but we’ll have to see.” he said.

The new COVID strains are more contagious than the previous form of the virus. What could make them deadlier is if they spread widely.

“For the individual person, it might not be more deadly but for the population as a whole, it is going to account for more deaths,” Cook said.

That’s why Cook is pushing people to get their COVID shots.

“If we can get enough people vaccinated and if the vaccine has at least the same effectiveness or even some effectiveness then that would reduce the spread,” he said.

Cook said shots are especially important for high-risk groups. He also said African-Americans face a higher risk of getting sick from COVID.

“Because of these variants, it’s even more important that persons that are at high risk get the vaccine as soon as they can,” he said.

Cook said masks are a must, even if you’ve gotten the vaccine. Double masking may not be a bad thing, depending on the material.

“An N95 mask is going to be more effective than a cloth mask and two cloth masks are going to be more effective than one cloth mask. Are two cloth masks as effective as an N95 mask? I don’t know, probably not,” Cook said.

Cook said vaccines like the ones from Pfizer and Moderna are ideal for stopping new COVID variants. The compounds in those shots can still cover any changes to the virus.