RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — One of the leading COVID-19 vaccine-makers says by next month it will have a vaccine ready that specifically targets the omicron variant.

But that development raises several questions.

Do we really need that specific booster?

Is it coming too late with the worst of the omicron surge likely past us?

And because the boosters we already have work so well at preventing hospitalization and death, is there a risk that having omicron-specific shots could lead to confusion?

“I gave that same message to some of my patients, actually,” said Dr. Joe Eron, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“And now that I’m seeing more data, I agree, it could really muddy the water,” he added.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said last month that the omicron-specific vaccine will be ready by March.

But both in North Carolina and across the U.S., case numbers and hospitalizations have been falling quickly over the past two weeks after peaking in late January. When it comes to new cases, the state is averaging less than a third of what it was just three weeks ago.

So is that vaccine coming too late to make much of a difference?

Dr. David Montefiori, a vaccine expert at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, doesn’t necessarily think so.

“We don’t know how far those numbers are going to go down,” Montefiori said. “Omicron could still be with us for a long period of time — we don’t know.”

Pfizer says the real benefit could come if yet another variant emerges. 

It says it expects to have the capability to make a tailor-made vaccine against it within 100 days, subject to regulatory approval.

“I think it’s remarkable that companies like Moderna and Pfizer and others are able to respond very rapidly when there is a new variant of concern that looks like it might escape the vaccines, at least partially,” Montefiori said.

Eron says that technology could be most helpful if those future variants develop from omicron.

“If the next variant is another derivative of omicron … there may be a small advantage to the omicron booster,” Eron said.

Otherwise, he said, that advantage “is actually fairly small” because the existing boosters work so well.

A big chunk of North Carolinians have already gotten a booster: 48 percent of all vaccinated people — and more than half of all vaccinated adults — having received one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say boosted people between the ages of 50 and 64 in December were 45 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 — and 51 times less likely for those 65 and older.

“What we know, actually, is the vaccines that we have now are very good at inducing fairly broad antibody coverage,” Eron said. “And actually, when you boost, it actually broadens that coverage.”

Eron says you probably shouldn’t expect COVID boosters to resemble the flu vaccines that are tailored to the specific strains that are expected to be dominant that year.

That’s because coronaviruses actually aren’t as tricky or variable as the flu virus, which he says has eight different pieces of its genome that shuffles around to form those new strains, he said.

“I know the variants seem pretty different in coronavirus, but I don’t know that we’re going to try to have to predict what kind of variant will show up,” he said. “I think that it’s likely that, again, our current vaccines will likely be a good boost.”

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.