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Omicron is making the unvaccinated rethink their opposition to the jab, a new six-country survey shows

January 28, 2022, 12:37 PM UTC

Just before Christmas, a brief video testimonial went viral across Italy.

A 50-year-old bearded man, a former anti-vaxxer with his head in a ventilation apparatus, gasps for air as he tells the Italian state-owned broadcaster, RAI, about his painful realization. From a hospital bed in Piacenza, in Northern Italy, the man has a message for his fellow unvaccinated. “Vaccinate yourselves,” he scolds them lightly, the stream of oxygen muffling the words coming from his mouth.

“I made a mistake,” he concludes, drawing measured breaths. “Don’t die from this disease.”

Nearly every day in Italian newspapers and on evening TV news broadcasts there are similar reports of Italy’s no vax pentiti—the repentant no-vaxxers—who tell journalists about a kind of Damascene conversion they have had in regard to the importance of getting the COVID jab. Italy is also a country where you’ll find some of the toughest mandates in the world impelling citizens to get vaccinated, and boosted.

In December, the Mario Draghi government introduced the Super Green Pass, proof that a person has been fully vaccinated against COVID, to enter most shops, businesses, and public events. Earlier this month, the country went a step further, mandating that all Italians over 50 must get vaccinated, or face a stiff fine.

The tough-love measures have shown promising early signs. In recent weeks, first-time vaccinations in Italy have shot up among this aging, vulnerable—they make up the largest segment of those hospitalized with Omicron complications—demographic.

Growing acceptance

There are plenty of grumbles on social media about Italy’s obligatory vaccination rules, but there’s also growing evidence that tough vaccination mandates are grudgingly growing in acceptance across the country, and elsewhere.

Earlier this month, Ipsos conducted surveys in Italy and France to gauge the support levels among the populations there for the tough new vaccination mandates that were just introduced. The polling firm shared the data exclusively with Fortune, and the findings surprised not only the pollsters, but also Fortune readers.

As a result, Fortune asked Ipsos to expand the survey to include four new countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia.

The findings were remarkably similar across all six countries. Among the general population, there’s wide support for compulsory vaccination rules. And even more startling, the ranks of unvaccinated see some merit in selective vaccination mandates. For example, there is overwhelming support for requiring teachers and health care workers to get vaccinated across all those polled. Requiring that private sector workers be vaccinated draws less support, but there’s still a majority in all but the U.K.

Even in the United States, where mandate battles have raged from state to state since the early days of the vaccination campaign, a majority of poll respondents are seemingly okay with rules requiring vaccination to enter workplaces, shops, and attend public events. This finding comes as courts across the country, and even the U.S. Supreme Court, strike down a variety of enforcement orders that would have required employees at large businesses get vaccinated, undergo weekly testing, or simply wear a mask.

But what continues to surprise pollsters the most is that the most strident blocs in each country—the unvaccinated—are showing signs that they, too, will go along with tougher measures in certain circumstances.

Call it a case of Omicron fatigue: This highly infectious variant is testing the resolve of even the most dogged anti-vaxxers, the pollsters find.

“They are definitely not a group of people that are hard-core sure they are right,” says Andrei Postoaca, CEO of Ipsos Digital. The data from these surveys tell him that there is probably one-quarter of the remaining unvaccinated who don’t fall into the strident “true believer” category. “More and more are willing to take a jab, are willing to accept a mandatory vaccination. So the question is: Step by step, will you get people to cross the line” and drop their opposition to vaccines and vaccine mandates?

“What I would say is clearly the vaccinated support a decision of mandatory vaccination. And a decent chunk of the unvaccinated in most countries also support it,” Postoaca adds.

Ipsos also collected data on those who intend to get a vaccination in the next month. In Italy, nearly three in 10 (28%) of the unvaccinated said they plan to get their first vaccination. That’s on the high end. In Germany and the U.K., just single-digit percentages of the unvaccinated said they will roll up their sleeves for a jab.

In France, one in five tell Ipsos pollsters they plan to get their first COVID vaccination. In the U.S., that number falls to 13% of respondents.

The polling firm also shared with Fortune a file of anonymized responses from the unvaccinated who took the survey. Ipsos asked each the same question: What was the biggest challenge, if any, you have faced as a result of your decision to opt, so far, to forgo the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you were to build a word bubble chart out of the survey responses, the biggest expression would read something like, “I’m not experiencing any challenges,” followed by “It’s none of your business.” But there are quite a few responses across all countries in which survey respondents divulge that their no-vax stance has cost them job opportunities, has caused frayed relations with friends and family, and has left them feeling ostracized by society in general.

As one respondent in the American survey replied, “People treat you poorly if you are unvaccinated.”

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