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How Starbucks engineers are working to speed up the vaccination process

Starbucks (SBUX), which serves coffee to 100 million customers each week, is leveraging its team of design engineers to speed up the COVID-19 vaccine process in its home state of Washington.

"Coming out of the holiday break in early January, I, like many other citizens in this country, was observing the fact that we had vaccines available, but the vaccination rate was just not scaling. And, I thought to myself, 'Well, I want to figure out a way to help. How can I help? How can Starbucks help?'" Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told Yahoo Finance of the company's decision to help deploy the vaccine.

Johnson decided to call Washington State Governor Jay Inslee to share three suggestions and rally the business community to help expedite the vaccination process.

"'Governor,' I said, 'If you set a goal for the state, we will embrace that goal, and we'll get every other business leader in this community to embrace that goal, and we will help you.' I said, 'If you set up a command center, wherein the Department of Health, we can contribute and work under your direction, we can help you scale this vaccination program.' And I said, 'Number three, we can help communicate to citizens in the state and in this country that hope is on the way, and that if we all pull together as citizens, as business, private sector, public sector and embrace that goal, we can do this, we can create an upward spiral,'" Johnson added.

Last week, Starbucks and several other businesses, including Microsoft and Kaiser Permanente, joined forces with Inslee to establish the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center (WSVCCC), a public-private partnership to help with vaccine logistics.

Starbucks has already used its Tryer Center — an innovation lab where employees usually test and try beverages, prototypes, new equipment, and test store workflow layouts — to create processes to simulate vaccination sites focused on efficiency and throughput, and the patient experience.

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks chief executive officer, get a tour of a mock vaccination site in the Tryer innovation lab at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. Starbucks is joining the Governor of Washington Jay Inslee, Microsoft, Kaiser Permanente Washington and the Washington Department of Health in establishing the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center to coordinate all available resources to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to Washington residents in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Starbucks is offering expertise to identify and remove operational hurdles to quicker vaccine distribution, with an approach centered on patient experience and health equity.  Photographed on 1/18/21. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

"Our team of human-centered design engineers that have designed our stores to serve 100 million customers a week, they're down there with nurses and medical professionals designing the workflow and designing the process for how we can get, you know hundreds of millions of customers vaccinated as quickly as possible, and we're doing that in partnership with health care, and with Microsoft on the technology side," Johnson said.

Johnson, who became CEO of Starbucks in April 2017, was previously the CEO of Juniper Networks (JNPR) and a top executive at Microsoft (MSFT). At Starbucks, he’s embraced human-centered design, a problem-solving method that puts the customer and employee experience and interaction — including the physical and digital environment — at every step of the process.

According to Johnson, applying some of those principles to the vaccination effort sounds promising. The executive pointed out that Inslee shared that the seven-day rolling average has already increased by 50% to nearly 24,000 doses per day, as the state works toward hitting 45,000 vaccinations per day target.

"And so, we're gonna stick at this and support the governor and support, Dr. Shah, the Secretary of Health in the state. And we're going to try and share what we're learning with every state governor across the nation, and as well as the federal government, so that together we can overcome this challenge," Johnson said.

Julia La Roche is a correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.