Two health care CEOs on why coronavirus tests and vaccines are the ammunition needed to fight COVID-19

March 31, 2020, 9:00 AM UTC
Stanley Bergman, Chairman and CEO of Henry Schein
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images

With no sense of normalcy on the horizon, the fallout from the coronavirus raises countless pressing questions for Americans, one of them very simple: Does the U.S. have the supplies we need to combat the virus?

Fortune posed this question to Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, and Stan Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein.

J&J announced on Monday that its experimental coronavirus vaccine could be approved under emergency authorization by early 2021, with human testing possibly beginning by September 2020. “For us to have an impact in a meaningful time, we have to start ramping up our production,” Gorsky said of J&J’s preparation to produce the vaccine.

Between now and that vaccine’s release—during which America’s health system will be stressed much farther than almost anyone alive today has seen before—Gorsky said the only thing that will bring any sort of confidence is knowing that the virus can ultimately be contained.

“In the near term, we’ve got to continue to emphasize hygiene, quarantine, social distancing, to stop people from spreading this virus in the first place,” he said.

As the CEO of the world’s largest provider of products to dentists and office-based health care practitioners, as well as many clinics, Bergman said, “we don’t have capacity in the U.S., and I think we need to develop that capacity very quickly because other countries have restricted the movement of these products.” 

But don’t let that scare you. Henry Schein is working on solutions, which Bergman shares on the latest episode of Fortune’s new podcast Leadership Next. Hosted by Fortune president and CEO Alan Murray, Leadership Next gathers insights from the execs who are redefining the rules of business leadership. Bergman—whom Murray calls “the most interesting CEO you’ve never heard of”—is something like a pandemic supply chain expert, having helmed Henry Schein for over three decades.

Dating back to the AIDS scare of the mid-’80s and encompassing the Ebola virus outbreak five years ago, Bergman led Henry Schein in developing resilient medical supply chains that have the surge capacity needed when a crisis hits. It might be common sense, but as he breaks down around the three-minute mark, travel bans and other measures will not be effective for infection control if we lack basic disposable personal protection products like gloves, masks, and gowns for health care workers on the front lines of the fight.

Bergman also shares some sobering realities about what’s needed to provide adequate point-of-care testing and explains how Henry Schein’s commitment to stepping up during times of crisis falls under the umbrella of “doing well by doing good.” 

Listen and subscribe to ‘Leadership Next’ now:

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

USPS might have to shutter by June as stimulus package provides no funding
—Everything you need to know about the coronavirus stimulus checks
—There will be another pandemic after the coronavirus. It’s time to start preparing
—Political activists make sure Americans register to vote—from a distance
—Social distancing creates $8 trillion in economic benefits, study says
—Where do clothing rental and subscriptions fit in a world that works from home?
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: World leaders and health experts on how to stop the spread of COVID-19

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