The Jackson County Legislature approved spending $5 million in federal funds for an effort to administer COVID-19 vaccinations in Kansas City East Side zip codes where vaccination rates remain low.
The funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will also pay for health screenings, an additional vaccination site and research on Kansas City’s East Side.
The CARES Act allocation goes to a partnership that includes Truman Medical Centers, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Black Health Care Coalition.
The project, called “Our Health KC Eastside,” expects to tap into East Side clergy, businesses, youth groups and neighborhoods to encourage vaccinations in six low-income zip codes where vaccination rates, particularly among Black, Hispanic and Latino residents, remain in the single digits or low double digits.
“It is a serious disease that deserves and continues to deserve serious attention,” said Charlie Shields, president and chief executive of Truman Medical Centers.
In zip code 64130, which extends east of Woodland Avenue between 39th and 63rd streets, the population is 88% Black. But only 15% of Black residents in that zip code have had at least their first vaccination dose.
Jannette Berkley-Patton, professor at the UMKC School of Medicine and director of the university’s Community Health Research Group, said skepticism about the vaccine and barriers such as transportation, hours of operation and general mistrust of the medical system account for low vaccination rates on the East Side.
“We hear a lot about vaccine hesitancy and while that certainly is true and people have a lot of questions about vaccines and outcomes of vaccines and side effects...we also know that when it comes to socially vulnerable communities there are so many other barriers to accessing health care,” Berkley-Patton said.
One of the chief goals of the program is to get at least 5,000 people vaccinated in the six priority zip codes, which are 64106, 64109, 64127, 64128, 64129 and 64130.
Berkley-Patton said increasing vaccination rates in those zip codes could help with a broader vaccination effort in the surrounding communities.
“If we can get those 5,000 over the next few months, that can ripple out to many, many more thousands who can make decisions about getting vaccinated,” Berkley-Patton said.
Wyandotte County similarly launched a program to prioritize low-income zip codes where residents have difficulty accessing healthcare services early on during its vaccination effort. The county has had success in increasing the vaccination rate among Hispanic residents, partly as a result.
Our Healthy KC Eastside will also provide screenings — blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, mental health — for those who have difficulty accessing health services or have put off screenings as they avoided hospitals and doctors offices over the past year.
The program runs from June 1 to Nov. 31.
“I think this is going to be an incredible win for Kansas City and incredible win for East Side Kansas City in particular,” Berkley-Patton said.