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Jackson County OKs $5 Million To Ramp Up COVID Vaccinations On Kansas City's East Side

Valerie Chow, a retired anesthesiologist, finishes vaccinating a patient at Friendship Baptist Church in March.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Valerie Chow, a retired anesthesiologist, finishes vaccinating a patient at Friendship Baptist Church in March. The church is located in the 64128 zip code, which is included in the new initiative.

The project will focus on six east side Kansas City zip codes where vaccination rates remain low, especially among minority populations.

Jackson County is launching a $5 million initiative to address vaccine hesitancy and health inequities on Kansas City's east side.

The Jackson County Legislature approved use of CARES Act funding on Monday to go to the partnership, which includes Truman Medical Centers, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Black Health Care Coalition.

“Our Healthy KC Eastside” will aim to ramp up vaccinations in portions of the county identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having exceedingly high socially vulnerable index scores.

The initiative will prioritize six zip codes: 64106, 64109, 64127, 64128, 64129 and 64130. According to the project’s proposal, four of Kansas City’s six lowest life expectancy zip codes are on the east side.

Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. endorsed the project at Monday’s legislative meeting.

“We must take action to ensure that my grandkids, your grandkids, don't grow up in a world where people in one neighborhood die, on average, 18 years younger than their friends, co-workers and family members because of where they grew up,” White said.

The project description states that the zip codes in question are highly populated by minority residents, especially African Americans, but vaccination rates among them remain low.

For example, the population of zip code 64130 is 88% African American, yet only 15% of its Black residents have been at least partially vaccinated.

The project description states that the city’s east side has experienced some of Jackson County' highest rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Charlie Shields, president of Truman Medical Centers, said Truman is still seeing a “big number” of COVID-19 patients.

“It is a serious disease that deserves and continues to deserve serious attention,” Shields said.

The project cites factors such as income, transportation, limited access and mistrust of the medical system as reasons for the low vaccination rates.

Project leaders expect to tap into a community net of local faith leaders, youth organizations and businesses to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations through education and outreach.

The initiative will also create an additional vaccination site, bolster research and expand health screening and prevention on the city’s east side.

Dr. Jannette Berkley-Patton, director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute, is leading the project. She said she wants to use the project's infrastructure to address health concerns beyond COVID-19.

“The work that we do in Kansas City, I don't consider it to be just research. I consider it to be my life's calling in the important work of really trying to contribute to improving the health of my community,” Berkley-Patton said.

The initiative also includes cholesterol screenings; blood glucose, dental and mental health services; the provision of vaccines for HPV and influenza; and education programs.

The program begins on June 1 and will run through Nov. 30.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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