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CVS Health CEO talks booster shots and building healthier communities

October 12, 2021, 7:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Karen Sayre/Fortune MPW

Karen Lynch, the CEO of CVS Health and No. 1 on Fortune’s 2021 Most Powerful Women list, spoke Tuesday about her views on booster shots, the company’s vaccine mandate, and building healthy communities at the MPW Summit in Washington, D.C.

The CEO, who joined CVS Health after its purchase of Aetna in 2018, has had a busy year. Since being appointed to the top job in February, Lynch has put CVS into action providing tests, COVID vaccines, and now booster shots, and has committed to expanding its health care presence.

Under Lynch’s leadership, the company outpaced analyst expectations in the first two quarters of the year, posting a $2.8 billion profit in the second quarter of 2021. CVS Health leaped three spots this year to No. 4 on the Fortune 500 because of its recent performance.

At the conference Tuesday, Lynch said the company continues to be dedicated to aiding in the country’s COVID-19 response. Since it started its campaign, CVS has vaccinated 34 million Americans, Lynch said Tuesday, and despite recent arguments by health experts over who should receive booster shots, she encouraged everyone to get one when eligible.

The company itself instituted a vaccine mandate in late August for nurses, pharmacists, and other employees who face patients. Lynch said the decision to mandate full vaccination by the end of October for many of its 300,000 employees was difficult but ultimately necessary as a health care company.

“I firmly believed that when you were all getting vaccinated, you expected your pharmacist to be vaccinated,” Lynch said.

Employees have until Oct. 31 to upload their vaccination records, and CVS is in the process of sending letters to those workers who haven’t yet complied. Lynch said the company is conducting a massive hiring campaign to replace any employees that choose not to get vaccinated.

This commitment to having vaccinated employees is in line with its huge campaign to vaccinate regular Americans and is important considering that Lynch believes COVID vaccines will continue to be around for a while. Lynch said this fall we are likely to see upticks not only in the flu, but also in COVID-19, which may complicate care.

“We’re encouraging everyone to get their flu shots at the same time so I think it’s with us for quite some time, and it likely will become an annual event,” Lynch said at the conference.

In terms of COVID vaccinations, the company has also made efforts to battle misinformation and hesitancy. Because of recent hostility by customers to employees in CVS stores, Lynch said the company has also increased security in stores and provided more training to employees.

The pandemic brought many customers through the doors of a CVS for the first time as they sought COVID tests and vaccines, and Lynch said the company is trying to capitalize on that. She said consumers are increasingly accessing health care in their local communities, and with its MinuteClinics and HealthHUBs as well as health financing and chronic disease programs, Lynch hopes to expand its consumer base.

“We have full-service capabilities as a health care company to truly meet consumers where they are, and I think the pandemic has really said to our strategy: It’s the right strategy at the right time for health care in America,” Lynch said.

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