Corona: This is how Japan vaccinates in twelve steps


Henry Ford, the assembly line pioneer of the auto industry, would have enjoyed the Japanese vaccination program. Because the Japanese have broken down the vaccination process into so many small, labor-intensive work steps with a love of detail that outsiders are no longer surprised at the extremely slow start of the vaccination campaign in Asia’s oldest industrial nation.

I count around ten individual stations in the process chain in my local vaccination center, well staffed with highly qualified staff. Drafting the flowcharts is likely to have resulted in Japan being considered a vaccine latecomer at home and abroad for a long time. Sure, like other Asian countries, Japan only received corona vaccines well after the USA and Europe. But while South Korea began vaccinating quickly, Japan’s bureaucrats spent months working on the logistics. Even the Japanese lost patience. This led, among other things, to the popularity crisis of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who, politically exhausted, announced his resignation last week.

But Japan is now vaccinating – on the assembly line, so to speak – faster than most other nations. Japan’s vaccination rate could even surpass that of vaccination pioneer USA this month. The laurels for the new vaccination rate now go to Suga’s vaccination minister, Taro Kono, who has a good chance of becoming the new head of government. The design award for the smooth running of highly complex production processes belongs to the organizers of vaccination centers such as the one in the Tsuzuki district office, a district of the metropolis of Yokohama. The office has converted its event hall into an immunity factory.

The sequence:

  • Arrived well armed with a pile of documents. Three ladies sat at the reception. One helped fill out the health declaration, one took body temperature and wrote it down on the routing slip, the third checked the papers and put them on a clipboard.

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  • Two meters to the left to the next lady who checked the documents and sent the “vaccine subject” to the next checkpoint. There the papers were checked and asked how you were doing. Good.

  • On to the next double station: two tables, each occupied by two people.
  • I am called to the right table. A young man takes the clipboard from me, checks the documents for completeness and passes them on to a woman with a red cloak that says “Nurse”.
  • She looks at me and asks again what I had already ticked in the health declaration. How I am and whether I have ever had an allergic reaction to vaccinations. “No.” The nurse is happy. “Please go there to draw numbers”. An explanation of possible side effects – nonexistent.
  • Further into the vaccination hall and there around the vaccination boxes made of partition walls. On the other side is a lady who hands over the number and shows the way to the waiting areas in the theater.
  • A first lady directs me to the row of seats on the left side of the hall, in which seats are taken in the exact order of numbers. The middle seats are vacant, the right ones are the quiet zone, where the vaccinated persons are observed for 15 minutes for allergic reactions.
  • A second employee assigns the seat. It also has the task of disinfecting the seats as soon as a row has emptied. Then you have to wait until a screen and another lady at the entrance to the actual vaccination zone call the number.
  • She takes a look at the papers and says the number of the box to go into. So that nobody gets lost in the three meters, another employee stands in front of the box, raises her hand and says: “Here please.” An elderly gentleman is waiting behind a curtain, who pretends to be a doctor through his white coat. But he doesn’t vaccinate.

Japan has always tried everything possible with electronics Рand often the impossible. Every Thursday our author Martin Kölling reports here on the latest trends from Tokyo.

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  • The gentleman looks at the papers and asks how you are, whether you have ever had an allergic reaction to vaccinations or have any questions yourself. “No.” Then it goes on to the next box for vaccination. In front of it there is another instructor who waves you over. She pulls aside the curtain, behind which three women are waiting.
  • You can sit down. The vaccination begins. To be on the safe side, the vaccinee asks how you are feeling. Then she patiently announces each step of the vaccination procedure. “Now I’ll disinfect your arm, ok?”, “Now comes the syringe.” It picks briefly, then a helper sticks an adhesive tape on the vaccinated person’s chest with the time at which the observation time expires.
  • Then out of the cabin to the next station, where a lady asks if you also have the papers for the second vaccination in three weeks. I show them. Good, please go to the quiet zone. There are four nurses available to look after around 30 people waiting. 15 minutes are up, then I can go. Done.

The personnel effort in this vaccination protocol may seem a bit excessive to non-Japanese. But it is representative of Japan’s culture of aligning efficiency with customer satisfaction and not just with capital expenditure.