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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County legislature unanimously approved spending nearly $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to get more people vaccinated in six zip codes on the city’s east side.

The goal is to counter vaccine hesitancy in neighborhoods that have been identified as not having very many people immunized against COVID-19.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Health Equity Institute would distribute federal money to churches, neighborhood groups, youth organizations and businesses in exchange for training their leaders to reach out to neighbors with information about the virus, and host small-scale COVID vaccination and testing events.

The university expects to immunize 5,000 people by the end of November, which works out to be about $1,000 spent for each fully vaccinated person. The county says that education efforts may also lead people who were hesitant about the vaccine to change their mind and seek out a shot for themselves, so the number may be greater than 5,000 immunized from this push.

“We really hope to vaccinate many, many more than that,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, the institute’s director. “Along with vaccinations, we will also do COVID-19 testing. We will provide numerous health services on the east side. It really goes beyond vaccinations. We’re really trying to find those people who would slip through the cracks and may not have access to health care services.”

Berkley-Patton says UMKC would manage money from the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Researchers also will help determine what makes people on the east side at risk for other chronic diseases, and how best to improve access to mental health services.

When people in the low-vaccine zip codes visit a corner store or a church pantry, they’re soon likely to encounter someone who will provide them facts about the vaccine and the dangers posed by the coronavirus disease.