• Kyodo

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Known for its pursuit of improvement and efficiency in auto production, Toyota Motor Corp. is using knowledge accumulated over years of being the top Japanese automaker to inject momentum into the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

At a vaccination center in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, where the automaker is headquartered, the flow of people is being constantly checked and necessary adjustments are made to the layout of the facility and vaccine delivery to make sure crowds don’t form, and more importantly that nothing is wasted.

“I got a shot much faster than I’d expected,” an 81-year-old man said at the venue.

The time necessary for each person to get a shot is calculated to be 10 seconds for rolling up the sleeve and 90 seconds for one shot.

Japan is seeking to speed up its vaccine rollout, which is still way behind compared with countries like Britain and the United States. Japan has been giving priority to people age 65 and older before younger generations can get shots. Vaccinations at universities and workplaces are expected to start on June 21.

By Tuesday, about 8% of the country’s 126 million population had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the Tokyo Olympics less than two months away.

“Just-in-time” — producing items exactly when it is needed and keeping minimum inventory — and kaizen (improvement) are critical factors in Toyota’s vehicle production system that has allowed it to aim for higher profitability.

These concepts have proven useful for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and Toyota is seeking to help municipalities across the nation, too.

At the facility in Toyota, if the waiting area for people who received shots is getting crowded, the layout of chairs is quickly changed, an example of kaizen.

“Ideally, people need to flow like they are drawn into (each section),” a Toyota official said.

Vaccines are also delivered at the right time.

Normally, refrigerated vaccines are delivered to designated places for inoculation and can be used for five days.

But the combination of Toyota’s inventory management skills and delivery service provider Yamato Transport Co.’s expertise has extended the five-day period to six months since the vaccines are transported and kept at a temperature of -60 Celsius or lower.

An ultracold freezer developed by ADD Co., based in Shizuoka Prefecture, is used in the delivery program.

“Toyota’s business is built on a safe and secure society,” said a Toyota executive who led the vaccination efforts in the city of Toyota. “We’d like to contribute to the vaccination of as many people as possible.”

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