Kentaro Hyakuno, Director, Group Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Rakuten Group
At the beginning of spring 2021, Japan’s vaccine plan was perhaps best described as “vague.” COVID-19 vaccines were to be administered primarily at public health-centers — the very same health centers that were struggling to keep up yet with another new influx of serious COVID-19 cases. Very little else was decided.
“Together with our partners, we have provided more than 870,000 vaccinations at Rakuten-supported vaccination centers to date. These have undoubtedly made a difference in reopening Japan’s economy, but what gives me the most pride are the public-private partnerships that our efforts have inspired.”Kentaro “Ken” Hyakuno, COO, Rakuten Group
Fast forward a few months, however, and millions of people across Japan have received their vaccines at private medical clinics, corporate-driven vaccination centers and workplaces — including more than 870,000 inoculations at locations operated by Rakuten. So how did we get there?
Taking the initiative to get Japan vaccinated
Our CEO Mickey Mikitani has been both vocal and influential in championing Japan’s vaccine drive. In April, he called on the Japanese government to revise its vaccination plans, urging a shift away from overreliance on public health centers to allow for members of the private sector to throw their weight behind the challenge.
The following month, Rakuten, together with Rakuten Medical, collaborated with industry, academia and government organizations — a Japan-first — to launch a mass-vaccination center in the city of Kobe. In collaboration with several local universities, medical organizations and the Kobe government, we began administering vaccines inside the home stadium of Rakuten’s own J.League soccer team Vissel Kobe, which we are providing to the city.
“This is about much more than having employees back in the office. We are directly contributing to Japan’s efforts to fast-track herd immunity acquisition and speed up the return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity by getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Not only were we able to bring together valuable resources from the public, private and academic sectors for a common cause — we learned how to use those resources in the most efficient and effective way possible. Through the innovative use of teleconferencing for pre-examinations and efficient booth layouts, we cut down the average time from check-in to vaccination to just three minutes, while also minimizing the number of medical staff required on-site.
In June, we took what we had learned from Kobe and launched a workplace vaccination program at Rakuten Crimson House, our headquarters in Tokyo. Thanks to an efficient operation that enabled us to administer up to 5,000 inoculations a day, the vast majority of our Tokyo-based employees and their families were fully vaccinated by the end of summer.
We went on to launch two more mass-vaccination facilities — one regular center in the city of Fukuoka, and another hybrid drive-through style facility at the Rakuten Eagles’ baseball stadium in Sendai. We opened up these facilities to provide vaccinations for essential workers and the local community as well. We reached a capacity of some 25,000 daily inoculations across these four locations, and as of November 30, we have supported the administration of more than 870,000 vaccines.
Why are we doing all of this?
This is about much more than having employees back in the office. We are directly contributing to Japan’s efforts to fast-track herd immunity acquisition and speed up the return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity by getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. After all, what good is a vaccinated workforce when the rest of the people driving Japan’s economy are still stuck at home?
Our ambitious undertaking in Kobe did much more than simply support the administration of over 360,000 vaccines. Rather, it demonstrated how public-private collaboration on vaccines could work going forward.
The success of the “Kobe Model” kicked off a wave of interest from other organizations around the industry, including many of our partners. When Rakuten Travel reached out to some of its tens of thousands of partners in the tourism sector across Japan, we were overwhelmed by the demand for information about our operations in Kobe and beyond. Today, we are providing comprehensive operation guidelines and manuals to around 20 different hotel associations, regional governments, companies and tourism organizations across Japan.
“The pandemic has presented us with an unprecedented challenge, and it’s only through continued collaboration that we can empower Japan to get back on track.”
The “Kobe Model” – and for workplace vaccinations, the “Rakuten Model” – for operating COVID-19 vaccination centers have taken off in a big way, no doubt contributing to Japan’s jump in vaccination rates from just 2% in May to over 70% by October.
Meanwhile, our vaccination program at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo was not only successful in getting our local workforce and their families swiftly vaccinated, but also allowed us to connect with the community and local businesses. As planned from the start of the program, we were able to offer vaccines to residents of the surrounding area, as well as local businesses and colleges, and the operation became our biggest of all, having administered over 340,000 vaccines as of November.
We’ve come a long way since April, when the future of Japan’s economy remained clouded. Together with our partners, we have provided more than 870,000 vaccinations at Rakuten-supported vaccination centers to date. These have undoubtedly made a difference in reopening Japan’s economy, but what gives me the most pride are the public-private partnerships that our efforts have inspired.
The pandemic has presented us with an unprecedented challenge, and it’s only through continued collaboration that we can empower Japan to get back on track.
About the author: Kentaro “Ken” Hyakuno serves as a Director, Group Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Rakuten Group, Inc. As COO of the company, Ken leads Rakuten’s Operation Division and is responsible for the development and execution of strategic initiatives such as the vaccination drive conducted by Rakuten this year.