Can Covid-19 vaccines overcome pandemic fatigue?

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned European countries of pandemic fatigue that could threaten their ability to deal with the spread of Covid-19.

WHO defines pandemic fatigue as a lack of motivation to follow recommendations by the authorities to protect oneself and others from the virus.

In Malaysia, people from all walks of life have made sacrifices over the past year to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by following standard operating procedures (SOPs) and adhering to government directives.

Previous studies discovered that life-career imbalances, limited interactions, limited social movement and the need to adhere to SOPs every day have contributed to pandemic fatigue.

Meanwhile, data reported by WHO found that most countries in the world are facing pandemic fatigue based on the increase in the number of those infected due to non-compliance with movement restrictions and SOPs.

Based on the findings of previous studies, the long period of movement control order (MCO) has also led to the occurrence of stress, loss of motivation and emotional disorder among the general public.

The pandemic fatigue faced by Malaysians must be curbed to continue the fight to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Continuous adherence to SOPs and government directives is still an important precautionary measure. Other aspects also need to be considered, such as emotional stress, career-family conflict and job security.

The Covid-19 vaccine is one of the important government efforts and strategies to curb the pandemic. However, we still need to be vigilant in taking important steps to protect community health and well-being.

The current study conducted by researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM, has analysed the pandemic fatigue level in the community, adherence to SOPs and government directives, emotional stress, career-family conflict and physical risks experienced by the public during the pandemic period.

A total of 2,047 respondents from various backgrounds were involved in the study that began in December. The study showed that 62.5% of respondents experienced pandemic fatigue at an alarming rate.

Most of the respondents who participated in the study reported that they often felt tired physically and mentally as they had to deal with various SOPs in the pandemic situation.

They also complained of not being able to perform many tasks during the day.

However, analysis of the level of compliance with SOPs shows that the majority of Malaysians are still compliant.

A total of 70.9% of respondents showed a considerably high level of compliance.

Nevertheless, this figure may decrease if the MCO is extended. The SOP for wearing face masks recorded a very high percentage of compliance (98%). It was followed by physical distancing (91.7%) and cleaning hands using sanitiser (90%).

The high compliance in the SOP of wearing face masks may be due to government strictness in monitoring adherence, such as imposing a penalty for failure to wear them.

Analysis of the emotional stress experienced by the community also shows alarming results. Up to 31% of respondents admitted that they often faced financial distress because of the pandemic.

A large number also reported sleep disorders and irritability, even over petty issues.

These symptoms are indicators of the emotional stress experienced due to the difficulties faced in the pandemic. Many also developed a sense of loneliness and demotivation during this period.

This situation should not be allowed to continue as it could lead to more severe mental health problems such as burnout and depression.

The career-family conflict has also been analysed to observe the life balance of Malaysians during the pandemic.

Since most people were instructed to work from home (WFH), attention should be given to this particular element.

At least 26% complained of often having to work for lengthy periods. They had to complete tasks assigned by their employers until late at night, thereby affecting quality time with the family.

They also reported frequently feeling less productive and lost focus at work because they had other duties at home.

When schools were closed, parents also had to double as teachers at home and monitor their children's learning activities. For those with many children, the daily routine became very busy and tiring.

Physical risk is the last element assessed to determine the level of occupational health and safety. Respondents reported that they frequently worked in unhealthy body postures, besides being exposed to non-conducive work environments; and also worked at uncomfortable workstations.

These aspects of physical risk need to be addressed by employers, so their employees can continue to work from home healthily and safely.

Incentives and assistance should be provided to low-paid employees, for example, by equipping or lending laptops, ergonomic chairs, workstations and appropriate work desks.

Findings indicate that adherence to SOPs, emotional stress, career-family conflict and physical risk are significant contributors to pandemic fatigue.

Pandemic fatigue can be managed and reduced if employers, employees, the community and the government give adequate attention to these elements.

The vaccine will help control the spread of the pandemic. It is good news to all because it has given a new hope for the return of normal lifestyles. At the same time, pandemic fatigue also needs to be controlled and overcome so that our community can survive in this crisis.

Dr Siti Marziah Zakaria

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Psychology and Human Well-being Research, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM

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