Dealing with Covid-19 Vaccine Anxiety Syndrome
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked the level of anxiety and stress among the general population all over the world to the highest. This is indicated by the increasing number of related mental and emotional breakdowns that have been reported in the media. The spike of online consultations as well as clinic and hospital visits related to Covid-19 cases have also been recorded throughout the pandemic situation.
Incidences such as relation and communication breakdowns in the family during the movement control order (MCO), the rising of reported cases like post trauma and stress, and increasing number of relapse cases such as anxiety and depression during the pandemic situation, all contribute to the worsening level of mental health issues.
The MCO itself has increased the risk of developing the feeling of social isolation that normally increase the risk of loneliness and emptiness. Research has also confirmed that these feelings are likely to put a person into a higher risk of getting depression and other types of emotional breakdowns. Undoubtedly, there are people in the society who also has to cope with losing their loved ones due to the Covid-19 fatal infection.
Similarly, the start of the pandemic has increased the risk of developing other types of anxiety related syndromes among the people. For example, someone may be mentally preoccupied with the fear of being infected with the Covid-19 virus. Subsequently, they start to believe that they are sick and the same catastrophic belief consequently leads to the increased level of fear and anxiety to such an uncontrollable situation that they may lastly stricken by severe form of panic and anxiety attacks.
Due to this situation, some of them may unconsciously develop coronaphobia and nosophobia, or even agoraphobia. These are the specific terms that have been used to describe irrational fear of getting infected by the virus, or apprehensive belief that they are sick as a result of the infection. Sooner or later, they start to avoid public and crowded places for being afraid of getting the infection from the public.
The good news to combat all this is the emergence of Covid-19 vaccine, which is supposed to make people happy and highly motivated to continue life. With the vaccine, the infection rate or the level of illness severity can be controlled. Even this cannot stop some group of people from thwarting off their nervous and anxiety about the infection. They are still locked up and trapped in their world of catastrophic style of thinking that eventually slows down the speedy progress of combatting war with the pandemic.
Current situation reveals that there are more than seven million registrants willing to receive Covid-19 vaccine so far, at the time this article was written. It is expected to be equivalent to 30 percent of the targeted number of the population to be registered in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Program or PICK with the hope that at least 80 percent of the population would register and successfully vaccinated for the country and community to reach the level of herd immunity. Meaning that we have to wait for another 50 percent of the population to willingly get registered by the specified time so that the targeted vaccination progress would be achieved as early as possible. However, this objective is somewhat doubtful considering the current registration trend and responses, when the underlying issue of vaccine hesitancy and resistance becomes a national concern.
This is actually an emerging issue faced by other nations all over the world. Many things need to be done in order to get solutions to vaccine anxiety and hesitancy in the population. Of course this demands some deep research in order to get to the root causes from the Malaysian context and perspective. Just to share some information that along the way, some related research have been done in other countries, especially in the US, as investigated by Pew Research Centre and Kaiser Family Foundation, in relation to the pandemic Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.
In summary, the research concludes that catastrophic thinking actually underlies the vaccination program hesitancy and this needs to be fixed first if the objective of the programme is to be successful. Secondly, misinformation and negative understanding that lingers around the vaccine side effects and safety must itself be dealt with clearly and objectively so that evidences and facts would help in providing some relief. Among the myths surrounding the vaccine are that it will alter their DNA and genetic makeup permanently, will cause some genetic defects, or may lead to the development of other fatal illnesses. Others believe that taking the vaccine will make them more easily prone to get the infection and so on.
From the domestic experience, an observation has at least come to the solution when Muzakarah Majlis Fatwa Kebangsaan on December 3, 2020 ruled that the vaccine is not prohibited in Islam. This has settled some issues related to misunderstanding about the status of Covid-19 vaccine. On top of this, Islam has also guided Muslims to practice the skill of providing facts and verification when it comes to spreading news, especially related to the pandemic. In Surah al Hujurat (6), Allah says, means:
“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.”