Subaru announces the Solterra, it’s first battery electric car

Perhaps not by coincidence Subaru chose the week of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to launch its first battery electric car, the Solterra (the name is a portmanteau of the Latin worlds for sun and earth). To say that it’s based on the same “e-TNGA” electric vehicle platform as the Toyota bZ4X understates how much the two cars have in common: They are basically one and the same car fitted with different badges. Even the wheels are the same. You have to look very carefully at this pair of genetically identical twins until you find a minor detail that distinguishes them: Yes, the rear lights are a bit different.

Toyota owns 20% of Subaru and they have shared models before (Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ), but I did not expect to see so little recognizable Subaru DNA in their first battery electric vehicle. Yes, there is a four wheel drive model of both the Solterra and the bZ4X and one assumes that Subaru had a hand in design choices for this, but 4WD is by no means unique for BEVs, as models ranging from the Tesla Model 3 to the Volkswagen’s ID.4 are also offered in dual motor 4 wheel drive configurations. Even the hybrid Prius is available in an electric 4WD version.

What seems a little odd is that the non-4WD model is front wheel drive (FWD). In internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, FWD offers some advantages as it saves having to have a long drive shaft between the front engine and the rear differential. The engine and the gearbox can be bolted together and directly drive the nearby front wheels. At the same time the weight of the engine and gearbox provides good traction for the driving wheels, especially in wintry conditions.

With a BEV however, the bulk of the weight is not in the engine but in the battery under the passenger compartment. Thus there is no real advantage in driving the front wheels as opposed to the rear wheels.

An electric motor driving the rear wheels can be very compact, not much bigger than the rear differential and exhaust system in rear wheel drive (RWD) ICE car. Without the traction advantage of the engine over the wheels, it would be better to go for RWD to get more weight on the driving wheels when going uphill or when accelerating. The turning circle would benefit too if the driving wheels don’t have to steer. It is no coincidence that both Tesla and Volkswagen use RWD for their BEVs, in the case of Volkswagen despite the fact that its best selling models such as the Golf and Passat are FWD. So why not Toyota and Subaru? It’s a mystery to me.

Another detail that surprised me was that even though DC charging on this car can reach a respectable 150 kW, AC charging at home is limited to mere 6.6 kW, which is less than for a compact Chevy Bolt. A Golf-sized ID.3 actually handles up to 11 kW. Some of this may be due to the Japanese Chademo charging standard and domestic grid considerations, as Japanese households only have access to 100 V and 200 V single phase current while the US and Europe use the CCS standard and 120 V / 230 V respectively, with 400 V 3-phase AC available anywhere in Europe. So even if there were technical reasons for limited AC charging speeds in Japan, export models should be able to do much better. Toyota may have specified its home charging module to the smallest common denominator, which if true is a bit disappointing.

As for the looks of the Toyota bZ4X / Subaru Solterra, to me they look like a close cousin to the existing Toyota RAV4 that I personally do not find very appealing. However, it is a big seller in the US market and this similarity may help move existing RAV4 owners over to BEV models once they become available some time in 2022.

Toyota has never been enthusiastic about battery electric vehicles. Its official line has been that hybrids are good enough for today and tomorrow we’ll get hydrogen fuel cell cars like its own Toyota Mirai, with all the benefits of battery electric but none of the drawbacks. There was no real space for battery electric in this vision. Toyota clearly over-promised and under-delivered on this strategy: Hybrid cars still spew CO2 into the atmosphere while almost all hydrogen today is made from fossil fuels. Battery electric does much better than that.

In Japan Toyota could rely on the government to help promote its “hybrids today, hydrogen tomorrow” story but in international markets that won’t fly. There the war for the future of the car is over and battery electric won hands down. No other country has a comparable push for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure as Japan has. Even if there were a domestic market for hydrogen cars in Japan, there won’t be any export markets.

Most experts agree that hydrogen vehicles are at least three times less energy efficient than battery electric vehicles, a flaw that would kill them even if the cars and the necessary fueling infrastructure could be built for the same cost, which isn’t the case. Batteries are far cheaper than hydrogen fuel cells and DC chargers are cheaper than electrolysers and hydrogen fuel stations. With battery prices falling further and further, within a few years BEVs will become cheaper to build than hybrid cars. Then the speed of conversion will only be limited by battery production capacity. It’s not clear Toyota will have the right investments in place by then, since it says its future BEVs will eventually be using solid-state batteries, an as yet unproven technology that only exists in the lab.

Until now Toyota had been avoiding BEVs except for the Chinese market, as it hoped buyers would keep buying its existing more profitable hybrid models. That is becoming a risky bet. Drastic changes needed to avoid the worst of a climate disaster no longer seem so radical compared to worldwide measures taken to deal with SARS-CoV-2. Huge numbers of consumers are ready for change. New BEVs by competitors are picking up market share in the US and in Europe. Toyota can no longer afford to wait on the sidelines or it will be seen as becoming irrelevant due to obsolete products.

This new BEV model is a very cautious move by Toyota and Subaru. Instead of competing head on with Tesla or Volkswagen, Toyota and Subaru are entering the BEV market only about as far as they absolutely have to, to still be a credible global player in 2022. The two companies will have to up their stakes to keep up with market developments.

Covid-19 numbers in Japan and Germany this autumn

My home state of Bavaria (population: 13.1 million) in Germany has had 30,117 new Covid-19 cases in the past 7 days, a 7-day incidence rate of 229 per 100,000. Meanwhile, Tokyo (population: 14.0 million) has had 142, a 7-day incidence rate of 1 per 100,000. The difference in numbers is simply staggering. Given that Germany started vaccinating its citizens months before Japan, it had a headstart on the road to immunity but it has since given up this advantage. A larger share of Japanese residents is fully vaccinated in every age group than in Germany. The growth in the vaccination rate slowed to a crawl in Germany months ago, while it’s still continuing at a healthy clip in Japan.

About two months ago, Tokyo’s Covid incidence (147 per 100,000 in 7 days on 2021-09-03) was quite similar to Bavaria’s current rate. But while the Covid incidence rate has been falling week after week in Japan since early September, it has almost doubled in Germany. The Japanese drop in cases has been amazingly consistent. When cases fall by half every 8 days and this continues for 8 weeks then cases will fall over 100-fold overall. That’s what an exponential decrease looks like. It happens when the reproduction rate of the virus drops below 1.

According to a numerical model created by Kris Popendorf, the two main contributors to the swings in the reproduction rate of the virus are mobility and immunity (you can read more details about his model here). One pushes the number up, the other pushes it down. The combined changes of the two either push the number above 1 (case numbers grow) or below 1 (cases drop). There are other factors, such as adherence to mask-wearing in indoor situations but in Japan’s case this has barely budged even when cases have been falling. Even when the risk of encountering infected individuals has decreased, few Japanese have stopped wearing masks as they still strive to comply with social norms.

With the end of the state of emergency, mobility has increased. People have started to go out and travel again and companies are reducing remote work. On the other hand, while rates of immunity will increase further, this increase is slowing down as the vaccination campaign will be nearing the saturation point over the next month or so. This will shift the balance of the two factors driving the reproduction rate of the virus towards the factor that drives an increase. We can therefore expect the rate of drop to slow and eventually rebound when mobility reaches a level that outweighs the level of immunity in the population. To achieve herd immunity regardless of mobility, the vaccination rate would have to reach a level estimated to be as high as 85-90 percent, which even Japan is unlikely to reach.

Case numbers in Tokyo are now at a level about 1/200 of the peak in August. Therefore even when the numbers start rebounding and grow again, there remains some time for public messaging to prevent a return to a caseload that would overwhelm the healthcare system.

I am much more concerned about the situation in Germany, which has a significant population of people reluctant to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. While not as large as in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria or the USA, it makes it very difficult to get numbers under control. In Bavaria, the Covid-19 incidence amongst unvaccinated people is 9 times higher than amongst fully vaccinated people (451.5 vs. 50.9). This means that even though about 65 percent of the population are fully vaccinated, the vast majority of cases are of unvaccinated people. Only 39 percent of teenagers are fully vaccinated there while more than two thirds of teenagers in Tokyo will soon have both shots. Even for age 65+ the rate is 80 percent in Bavaria vs. 91 percent in Tokyo, which means there are proportionally more than twice as many unvaccinated seniors in Bavaria as in Japan.

Unfortunately it will be very difficult to change the attitudes behind the vaccine resistance in Germany and other countries, as it is an issue of trust. Many of the people reluctant to get the shots trust neither politicians nor mass media nor medical professionals nor science in general. They will therefore be difficult to reach.

Restrictions on public activities, such as eating out or travel that are becoming more convenient again for low-risk vaccinated people will gradually erode the non-vaccinated population share but that will take time.

METI and Japan’s exit from the Carbon Economy

On the eve of COP26, the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the Japanese government took out a full page ad in the Japan times to talk about “beyond zero”, a series of events and initiatives related to Climate Change. It struck me that none of them were specifically about renewable energy, the essential ingredient for a carbon-free economy.

The title of “Tokyo Beyond Zero Week” already had me confused: It reminded me of the Toyota bZ4x, a battery electric SUV that is the first mainstream battery electric vehicle for the Japanese market that Toyota has announced. Toyota has become notorious for bucking the Battery electric trend by plugging hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells, despite hydrogen fuel from renewable sources being 3 times less energy-efficient than battery electric vehicles. The bZ4x is too little, too late when Toyota is telling potential customers that they should really be buying hybrids like the Prius or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Mirai.

METI, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been sponsoring vehicles based on hydrogen fuel cells using hydrogen made from Australian brown coal (lignite), with the resulting CO2 emissions sequestered using “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) and the hydrogen shipped to Japan in cryogenic tank ships developed by Japanese shipyards with METI funding. Essentially it’s a massive pork barrel project, designed to pay industry players to go along with a Rube Goldberg project that will not be economically viable. It’s a way of keeping ecological laggards such as Toyota and the huge Japanese shipbuilders and trading companies relevant. Some of the initiatives sponsored by METI are:

  • LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) Producer-Consumer conference
  • International Conference on Carbon Recycling
  • International Conference on Fuel Ammonia

There is no place for LNG in a zero carbon economy. “Carbon Recycling” aka CCS is a fig leaf to keep burning fossil fuels. Ammonia may be a necessary fuels for ships and airplanes, but if it’s made from coal it won’t be green energy.

Why is the METI ad not talking about offshore wind and geothermal power, two of the most important energy sources for green baseload electricity? It’s because they are primarily concerned about creating and maintaining business opportunities for Toyota, trading companies making profits from fossil fuel imports and other companies wedded to the fossil fuel industry and not about how to get Japan ready for the zero carbon age.

I find this very sad. As a country with limited fossil fuel resources, Japan could become a prime player in the post-carbon era, developing new technologies to help other countries move beyond fossil energy sources. Japan has huge opportunities in offshore wind, onshore wind, solar and geothermal but its government has been largely turning a blind eye to them because those energy sources can not be controlled by its big trading companies. Likewise, its biggest automobile manufacturer is a laggard in battery electric vehicles which is determined to sabotage the switch to BEVs.

Tesla 4680 cells and bad journalism

Tesla and Pansonic have introduced the new 4680 battery cell that future battery packs for the Model Y and the Cybertruck will be based on. These larger cells will replace the previous 2170 form factor that current Tesla packs are based on, which in turn replaced the 18650 cells that Tesla inherited from the laptop industry.

Some of the articles about the new cell have talked about the 5 times higher capacity of the cells saying it would address the problem of “range anxiety”:

5 times more energy means less range anxiety and more drive time. It means fewer stops on a road trip and a more enjoyable experience.
(Why The Tesla Tabless Battery Is So Good, torquenews.com, 2021-03-30)

Actually, this claim is embarassingly disingenuous.

Yes, the new cells have higher capacity but that’s because they’re bigger, which means a battery pack of a given capacity will be built from fewer but larger cells. The bottom line of capacity by weight or by volume is largely unchanged.

The new cells are 2.2 times the diameter of their predecessors, meaning they will have a cross section 4.8 times larger, so a given number of square meters of floor plan for a particular vehicle will fit 4.8 times fewer of these larger cells with each storing about five times as much energy as their smaller siblings. If you think this makes for 5 times more range then I have a bridge to sell to you 😉

The cells are also 80 mm long instead of 70 mm, but for energy density it’s basically a wash: The energy density per liter or per kg is unlikely to be vastly different.

Another point of confusion is Tesla’s claim that the cells will have five times the capacity but 6 times the power output. Some articles have interpreted that as 20% more range which is not the case. The truth is that the new cells can be discharged 20% faster without overheating but the total amount of energy released is unaffected by that. It’s like saying a car with 120 HP will have 20% more range than a car with 100 HP because it can drive faster. In reality it will burn fuel more quickly while doing so. This is strictly about peak power (energy by time), not total capacity.

The reason for the higher output is that the new batteries are tabless. All cylindrical Li-ion cells consist of two layers with a separator layer in between, wrapped up as a roll. Think of a double ply roll of toilet paper. When Tesla switched from 18650 to 2170, they made the roll wider (65 mm to 70 mm) but also made made the rolled-up sandwiched layers longer, giving the roll 21 mm instead of 18 mm of diameter.

This increased capacity per cell but it also meant that when energy is released in the ion exchange between the two layers in the innermost part of the cell, the current needs to flow round and round the rolled up layers until it reaches the tabs soldered to the exterior from where the power is transferred to the two opposite end of the cell.

The tabless design does away with that. In it, all the top edges of one layer touch each other and the battery pole at the top while the bottom ends of the other layer touch each other and the bottom pole. That dramatically shortens the path of the conductor through which current needs to flow. Internal resistance and waste heat are greatly reduced.

The bigger diameter means that the exterior steel skin of the cell is lighter relative to the reactive parts inside for some weight savings.

Not directly related to the bigger format, the new cells also break new ground by making do without any cobalt in their anodes which rely on nickel instead. Unlike cobalt which is primarily sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (a troubled country with huge corruption and human rights problems), Nickel is available from sources worldwide.

Several online articles have also repeated a claim that the new cells have a capacity of 9,000 mAh vs the approximately 5,000 mAh of the 2170 cells. This is way off the mark and must be based on bad arithmetic. To be consistent with Tesla’s claim of 5 times the capacity per cell, it would have to have about 25,000 mAh of capacity. That is also consistent with the quoted capacity of a 4680 cell quoted by a Chinese supplier of Volkswagen, which is also looking at using this format in the future.

LFP cells and the 4680 form factor

Personally, I think it would be great to also see a LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) version of 4680 cells. Panasonic announced that they would not be making it, but some of Tesla’s Chinese suppliers might opt for this format, which would work well for entry level models. LFP is a very safe chemistry and has a long cycle life, even if the energy density is somewhat lower.

In any case, it makes more sense for BEVs not to have the highest battery capacities possible but instead for some of the battery inventory to be used for infrastructure to decouple quick charging from available grid capacity: A certain percentage of annual battery production should be installed in chargers instead of in cars. Actually, recycled batteries from scrapped BEVs make a lot of sense for this, but so do different chemistries such as redox flow batteries including iron batteries.

If for example, most cars travel less than 150 km per day it does not really make much sense that they have a large but heavy battery that gives them 400 km of range but costs a lot of money and whose weight increases electricity use when accelerating. More weight also means more tire wear.

On the few days that cars need to travel further than their limited range, they should be able to quickly recharge from supercharger stations that use on-site battery storage to be able to recharge cars regardless of whether the grid has spare capacity at that moment or not. This is a far more efficient use of scarce resources than giving all BEVs a huge battery and makes for a more robust electricity grid.

wget: “Issued certificate has expired” after September 30, 2021

Two websites that I download data from using automated processes stopped giving me new data from October 1. When I investigated the problem, I could see an error message from the wget program in Linux:

Connecting to SOME.HOSTNAME (SOME.HOSTNAME)|1.2.3.4|:443… connected.
ERROR: cannot verify SOME.HOSTNAME’s certificate, issued by ‘/C=US/O=Let’s Encrypt/CN=R3’:
Issued certificate has expired.
To connect to SOME.HOSTNAME insecurely, use `–no-check-certificate’.

The quick fix, obviously, was to add the –no-check-certificat to the command line, which allows the download to go ahead, but what’s the root cause? My assumption was that the site owner had let an SSL certificate expire, but after it happened with a second site from the same date, I got suspicious. It turns out, Let’s Encrypt which is used by many websites for free encryption certificates previously had a certificate that expired on September 30 and which has been replaced by a new certificate but many pieces of software don’t retrieve the new certificate. That’s because it’s signed with a new root certificate that a lot of older software don’t trust yet. They need an updated of the root certificate store.
In my case, running

sudo yum update

would update the ca-certificates package and that allowed wget to trust the new certificate.
Please see these links for more information:

Japan passes Germany on Covid Vaccines

On September 24, 2021 Japan’s first vaccine dose rate passed Germany’s rate (67.8 % vs 67.7 %) but with a steeper trajectory still: While Germany only has a gap of 3.8 percentage points between first and second doses, in Japan it’s still 12.0 percentage points, indicating much faster recent growth. The 1st/2nd dose gap is the equivalent of the number of additional first doses over the past 3+ weeks, since 2nd doses are given 3 weeks after first doses with Pfizer/BioNTech, 4 weeks in case of Moderna and 4-12 weeks in case of AstraZeneca. Both in Germany and in Japan the vast majority of doses used (~80%) have been Pfizer/BioNTech.

This means Japan has not only matched Germany, it is still vaccinating at three times the rate of Germany and will therefore be left with far fewer unvaccinated people. Reluctance to get vaccinated is a much bigger problem in Germany than it is in Japan. Especially in eastern states vaccination rates are much lower than average. Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg have the lowest vaccination rates, followed by the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and the northernmost of eastern states, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Not coincidentally, the states with the lowest vaccination rates also have the highest support for the far right AfD. According to opinion polls, about 60% of AfD-supporters had no intention of getting vaccinated.

Links:

Setagaya Vaccination Update (II)

My wife and I have received both of our shots, three weeks after the first shot. In not quite two weeks we will be fully vaccinated.

The first shot triggers an immune system reaction that produces antibodies against the spike protein of the virus. After about two weeks, the immune system also produces Memory T cells, which are its way of remembering how to make more antibodies should they be needed again in the future. After three or more weeks, when the second dose is given, it puts those newly formed T cells through their paces, boosting the antibody levels.

According to the latest published numbers for Tokyo, the more infectious Delta variant already causes more new cases than all other strains of SARS-CoV-2 combined and is most likely to completely displace them soon. This is part of the reason why the reproduction rate of the virus has been increasing for several weeks, with weekly averages of new cases growth accelerating from under 20 percent a week to over 50 percent recently.

Now it is crucially important that more people get shots as soon as possible. Not all prefectures and municipalities in Japan have made the same use of the vaccine they have received from the central government.

Tokyo has the questionable distinction as the prefecture with the largest portion of unused vaccine doses, even though people are desperate for vaccine appointments. By Sunday, July 25 Tokyo had received 15,227,660 doses. According to the Vaccination Recording System (VRS), 4,081,931 of these doses had been used as first doses and another 2,380,397 as second doses, for a total of 6,462,328 – just over 42 percent of the total. That means about 8.8 million doses either have not yet been reported after use or they’re still sitting in freezers, earmarked for shots that are weeks away.

The basic supply of future vaccines are going to be about 1.3 million doses every two weeks distributed to the municipalities in Tokyo by population by the central government and another 320,000 or so allocated to the prefecture to give to the cities that need extra supplies the most because they have the smallest stocks.

In the past week (July 19 through July 26), 8,620,790 doses have been distributed for general vaccinations in all of Japan. During the same period, 3,521,414 doses were used as first shots and 3,921,705 doses as second shots, for a total of 7,443,119 shots. The same picture shows in Tokyo, with delivered stocks growing by 2,100,180 million (13,127,480 on 7/19 to 15,227,660 on 7/26) while only 895,327 doses were used (502,489 first doses and 392,838 second doses).

This would actually mean that unused stocks in freezers grew, rather than being shrunk to vaccinate as many people as early as possible to protect them against the Delta variant. Vials in freezers do not protect against illness, only shots in arms do.

However, it is also possible that the recent 4-day long weekend (Thursday, 7/22 through Sunday, 7/25) caused bigger than usual delays in the VRS reports, in which case the actual results of vaccine use could be a little better than these numbers appear to show.

Data from the “Vaccination Recording System” (VRS) in Japan

Daily vaccination statistics published by the Cabinet Office of the Japanese prime Minister suffer from lag problem: They are not reported back to a central database the day the vaccinations take place. This has the curious effect of making the published chart of daily first and second shots always trend downwards for the most recent 7-120 days or so.

There is a relatively simple way to compensate for the under-count: Its ratio is consistent between first and second doses. In Japan first and second doses for Pfizer are almost religiously spaced 21 days apart. Thus by looking at the first dose count 21 days earlier one can get a close approximation of the real second dose count for a given date. The ratio between the published incomplete second dose number and the approximation derived from the more accurate first dose count can then be applied to the 1st dose Pfizer count for the date you’re looking at. Those two numbers plus the Moderna numbers (which are not subject to the same delays because of the way the SDF sites — the main consumers of Moderna doses — are operating) then give you the real up-to-date General Vaccination count 🙂

From the current numbers we can see that first doses peaked on June 8 at around 650,000 doses day. However, second doses were still steeply climbing then and the total of first second doses exceeded 1,000,000 doses a day on June 15. On June 29, exactly 21 days after the first dose peak, second doses peaked at about 625,000 doses. For about 5 days, second doses clearly outnumbered first doses (June 28-July 2).

After July 3, first doses pulled ahead again, as many municipalities had sent vaccination tickets to people with medical conditions or younger then 65 years. The overall total seems to have largely stabilised at 1.1-1.2 million doses a day.

During July, August and September, the government will distribute a basic allocation of 8,000 boxes (9.36 million doses) every two weeks plus an “adjustment” of 2,000 boxes (2.34 million doses) that will go to municipalities with the best progress in using their allocated doses. This is pushing municipalities to update data on VRS more quickly, as this will be the metric used by the government to allocate the “adjustment” doses. The basic allocation is based on the number of residents age 12-64 in each municipality (the amounts for age 65 and above have already been fully distributed).

One potential problem with this is the fact that some local clinics have been vaccinating people who did not have a vaccination ticket with bar code yet, making this portion of the vaccination total hard to track. The doses have been allocated to the municipalities but may appear unused in VRS.

Handling Vaccine Stocks like Toilet Paper

The sky is not falling and Japan is not about to run out of vaccine any time soon. There is enough vaccine already in the country (either in national government freezers or in municipal/local clinic freezers) or scheduled to be delivered at regular intervals over the next 3-4 months that Japan will be able to vaccinate all of its residents age 12 and above by the end of November. Pfizer/BioNTech shipments run until October, Moderna shipments until September. Japan can maintain a rate of about 1.4 million doses a day (i.e. higher than now) until the final month, when mostly only second doses will be needed and the pace could drop by half from the peak. All this while not even tapping into its supplies of 120m doses of AstraZeneca, of which it is giving away millions to Taiwan (2x), Malaysia, Indonesia (both July 1), the Philippines (July 8) and Thailand (July 9) so far and undoubtedly will give away a lot more.

Nevertheless the media report about local governments cancelling or postponing reservations due to vaccine shortages, while the government blames some municipalities for hoarding vaccine instead of using it. What’s behind all this?

The Japanese government wants municipalities to use all Pfizer doses as soon as possible. They allocate doses for every city and prefecture for every two week period. Pfizer vaccination takes two doses at least three weeks apart. According to Minister Kono, second doses should be taken from later shipments than first doses, as he made clear in a June 1 interview. Instead, municipalities treat first and second doses like Siamese twins, allocating them from the same source and keeping the second in a freezer for 3 extra weeks. That causes artificial shortages down the road, just like back when everybody tried to keep three months worth of toilet paper in stock at home.

By the end of June the government had distributed 78 million doses, more than enough doses for all people aged 65 and above to be completely vaccinated, priming the pipeline. After the allocations in May and June, extra doses were to continue being shipped in allocations every two weeks.

In many places the 65+ group won’t finish vaccinations until the end of July, so first doses will have finished for them around July 10 after which second doses will continue for another three weeks. Once the number of first doses for 65+ has reached a peak and then decreases, first doses for the next groups (people with medical conditions, 60-64, 50-59 etc.) can take over the next vaccination slots using the supplies in stock at that time. This phase would start no later than July 10.

Where the problem arises is that municipalities have this fixed idea that second shots for 65+ in July should still come from the original May/June shipments, kept waiting in a freezer until then, instead of from July shipments.

For example, 65 year old person A gets his first shot in the 4th week of June. The second shot will be due in the 3rd week of July. 60 year old person B wants to get her first shot in the first week of July, after the city has finished first shots for the 65+ group, and her second shot in the 4th week of July. The smart thing would be to let person B go ahead since enough vaccine is still in stock from June. More will arrive in allocations in the first and second half of July and both A and B will get their second doses in the 3rd and 4th week from that fresh supply. Instead what the cities are doing is to reserve the June stocks exclusively for the 65+ group, letting it sit in a freezer for a month while keeping person B waiting to make her reservation only after sufficient July shipments have come in to cover both of her first and second shots. That’s what the 40 million unused doses cited by the government and the cancellation of vaccinations due to “insufficient supplies” as per the mayors is about.

It doesn’t really make sense to let vaccines sit idle while keeping unvaccinated people waiting for their shots. Vaccine should go into arms as soon as possible to protect people against sickness and death.

Setagaya Vaccination Update

We’ll be getting our first shots on Monday, about two weeks after we received the tickets to be able to make a reservation. I am excited! Vaccinations are our best chance to push the reproduction rate of the virus below 1, despite the spread of the more transmissible Delta and Kappa variants (B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.1) that were first sequenced in India late last year. Right now it looks like these variants are rapidly replacing the Alpha variant that arrived from the UK earlier this year and will have largely done so by the opening of the Olympics three weeks from now.

Setagaya, the ward of Tokyo where we live, suspended its reservation system for a couple of days to perform an upgrade. Now that it has come back online, they have also extended the time period until when you can make reservations from the end of August to September 21. They will revisit it again after watching how many individuals will get vaccinations through their universities or workplaces starting from this month.

Looking at the September overview of open slots (which we can assume to be close to the pre-booking state) it seems the mass inoculation sites run by the city are designed to handle about 33,500 shots per week. All sites have some days off (presumably for the staff), but all are open Saturdays and Sundays to make it easy for people to get vaccinated without taking off time from work or schools.

Besides the mass vaccination sites people can also go to local clinics. Appointments there are mostly not done through the municipal reservation system. I have not seen any data yet on how many people are choosing their regular clinics vs mass vaccination sites, which makes it hard to get an accurate view for progress in Setagaya.

The earliest available mass vaccination slots listed right now are about 3 weeks from now. By July 20 vaccination tickets will have been mailed out to the rmaining population aged 16-59, with children age 12-15 added at the end of the month. Assuming the vaccination capacity for July 1-21 is comparable to the empty slots in September (1-21) then about 100,000 shots can be given over these three weeks, while about another half a million people will get tickets allowing them to make appointments to get two shots each. This will presumable push the available dates months into the future. The big unknown for me is how many shots the local clinics will handle.