Health and care workers who refuse to get vaccinated could be moved to back-office roles, the care minister has suggested.
Helen Whately said there were people who could not have the Covid-19 vaccine for medical reasons but those who decline the jab could lose their frontline jobs.
She told Times Radio: “You can look at whether there are alternative ways somebody could be deployed, for instance, in a role that doesn’t involve frontline work, or doesn’t involve being physically in the same setting as the patient, whether it’s, for instance, working on 111, something like that.
“So we could look at alternative roles for individuals, these are exactly the sorts of things that we can investigate.”
The Government has launched a six-week consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment for frontline workers in health and care settings.
It means staff could be required to have both Covid and flu vaccines to protect patients from infection, serious illness or death.
Some 92% of NHS staff have had their first dose of a coronavirus jab while 88% have had both doses.
Latest figures from NHS England suggest that 234,873 social care staff, outside of those working in older age care homes, are yet to be vaccinated.
Some 90,109 (17.6%) staff working in care homes for younger adults, or in domiciliary care, have not yet had a first jab or their first jab has not yet been reported.
And 144,764 staff (25.1%) working in other settings, such as non-registered providers and those employed by local authorities, have not yet had a first dose or this has not yet been reported.
Updated NHS England data will be published later on Thursday.
Workers in registered care homes have already been told they will need to be double jabbed as a condition of deployment in England’s care homes by November 11, unless they are exempt.
Speaking on Sky News, Ms Whately suggested that workers who refuse to get the coronavirus vaccine should not work in social care.
“The reality is that one of the best ways we can protect people living in care homes is through making sure that staff are vaccinated,” she said.
Asked whether she was concerned that the vacancies in social care would rise as a result of mandating jabs, she said: “The big question has to be well, if you don’t want to get vaccinated, how can you continue, how can it be right to continue, to look after people who are really vulnerable from Covid?”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said some families of those living in care homes had told her they wanted staff to be vaccinated.
Asked whether unvaccinated staff should be sacked, she said they could be deployed to alternative roles, adding: “This is really difficult, but I don’t know about you, I’ve certainly spoken to people receiving care in care homes, or the families of those in care homes, and they want their family members to be looked after by people who are doubly vaccinated.
“They want their family members to have the most possible protection against this horrible disease.”
It comes as leading experts from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) meet to discuss who should get booster jabs this autumn, with a final decision expected before the end of the week.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Wednesday that updated JCVI advice on the issue is expected in the next few days.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Adam Finn, from the JCVI and the University of Bristol, said there was a need to be evidence-driven on the issue and it was “not going to be possible” to boost everyone.
“Getting the timing right is one of several things that we need to get right,” he added.
“You could conceivably run into a position where you’re immunising a lot of people when they don’t actually need to be, and if the vaccines do wane, then they will wane earlier than they would have done if you’d immunised them when they did need to be.”
Prof Finn was also asked about top US doctor Anthony Fauci’s comments that the Pfizer vaccine wears off and everybody should get a third jab of a Covid vaccine.
Prof Finn said: “Well there are two big issues here.
“One is that…although there’s waning against mild disease, we’re not clear that we’re seeing a real problem with waning against severe disease and the programme’s really driven by trying to keep people out of hospital and stop people dying…
“The other thing is that there is a limited global supply of vaccine and each dose going into the arm of someone who is already immune is not going into the arm of someone who’s got no immunity at all.”
Regarding whether vaccines should be mandated for health and care workers, he said it would be better to persuade people of their benefits.
He said making jabs compulsory was “kind of an admission of failure”, adding: “It’s like saying you can’t either find the time or find the ability to explain to people why it makes sense and create the culture in which everybody does it because they understand why it’s important.
“If you build a culture, it becomes the norm and everybody does it.”
But he added that he understood why it was being considered.
“We are in a pandemic and so things sometimes get done differently,” he said.
Unison head of health, Sara Gorton, said: “The key to convincing hesitant staff is persuasion, not force. Pushing NHS staff to get vaccinated will create resentment, destroy already fragile morale and reduce take-up.
“Of course, everyone who can should be jabbed, but as with care, compulsion is not the way.”