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Immunizations are a vital tool for community health, a line of defense against some of the most deadly and debilitating diseases known. It is particularly important to vaccinate small children, because they are both more vulnerable and also contribute greatly to the spread of disease.

Although child and adult immunization rates have risen this year, levels are still below earlier rates and put both populations at increased risk for serious illness.

Why is This Important?

Immunizations work by mobilizing the body's natural defenses against disease. They can prevent disability and death from certain diseases and can help control the spread of infections within communities. Vaccines now control diseases that once spread quickly and killed thousands.

Vaccines are given early in life because many vaccine-preventable diseases are more common and more deadly among infants and small children. Childhood immunization is also an important step in maintaining high community vaccination levels, which prevent outbreaks of such diseases. Adult immunizations are equally key. Some adults were never immunized as children and need to catch up; others need updated vaccines for diseases (e.g., influenza) that mutate over time, rendering older vaccinations ineffective.

How is Virginia Doing?

Virginia's vaccination rate for children has fluctuated in recent years, within a range of 70 to 82 percent. The state has taken steps to improve this rate by expanding mandated vaccinations to students entering both kindergarten and college, and by putting Healthy Virginians and the federal Healthy People programs in place. Although child and adult immunization rates have risen this year, levels are still below earlier rates and put both populations at increased risk for serious illness.


Percent of Children Immunized.  See text for explanation.Successful child immunization is defined by the percent of children ages 19 to 35 months who have received:

  • four or more doses of DTP
  • three or more doses of poliovirus vaccine
  • one or more doses of measles-containing vaccine
  • three or more doses of HIB
  • three or more doses of HepB vaccine
  • one or more doses of varicella vaccine

Virginia's child vaccination rate rose from 71.1 percent in 2012 to 74.6 percent in 2013, below the national average; despite the improvement, Virginia's rank nationally dropped to 34th. Rhode Island had the highest child immunization rate in 2013 at 87.2 percent. Virginia's rate was again lower than all of its peer states: North Carolina (83.6%), Tennessee (75.4%), and Maryland (81.9%). The national immunization rate stood at 77.7 percent.


Immunizations for Adults Age 65 and Older in Virginia.  See text for explanation.Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) and also reported by Virginia's Department of Health shows that influenza and pneumococcal vaccination rates in adults age 65 years and older generally decreased from 2011 to 2013, although 2013 rates are an improvement over the declines seen in 2012. Flu vaccinations dropped from 63.3 percent in 2011 to 62.8 percent in 2013. Pneumonia vaccinations were at 72.0 percent in 2011, but declined to 71 percent in 2013.

What Influences the Immunization Rate?

Several factors influence immunization rates.

Poverty/access to care issues:  Fragmented health care systems, provider unwillingness to deliver vaccines in-office, incomplete availability of vaccine for children program services, and referral to other agencies for vaccine delivery.

Cultural approaches to health care:  New and widely reported fears of harmful effects from immunizations, low family prioritization for vaccine delivery, misunderstanding of vaccine relevance, and lack of trust in the medical community.

Missed opportunities:  Provider manufacturer obstacles, vaccine not available, vaccine shortage (manufacturer), reimbursement deficiencies, lack of simultaneous administration, invalid contraindications, and misinformation about vaccine needs.

What is the State's Role?

One of the Virginia Department of Health's goals is to reduce the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases. Virginia is working to:

  • ensure that 2-year-olds are appropriately vaccinated
  • increase the number of adults who get annual flu and pneumococcal vaccinations
  • help achieve the World Health Organization's goal of global polio eradication
  • reduce the cumulative global measles-related mortality rate
  • improve vaccine safety surveillance

Virginia is also working with the federal government's Healthy People 2020 initiative, whose goal is for 80 percent of children aged 19-35 months to be immunized against DTP, polio, MMR, HIB, hepatitis B, varicella, and PCV.

The Commonwealth requires all children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated. Local health departments administer vaccinations and Medicaid assists with vaccination payments. Before beginning college in Virginia, all entering freshman must provide up-to-date shot records and have the meningitis vaccination or sign a waiver of refusal.  The Division for the Aging in the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services helps seniors get vaccinated, as they are particularly vulnerable to serious complications from the flu virus.

Page last modified June 29, 2015
Percent of Children Vaccinated, by State Immunizations for Adults Age 65 and Older in Virginia.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data and Definitions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
NOTES: This survey includes a margin of error ranging from 1.4 percent on national estimates and up to 8.6 percent for some state estimates.
Estimates / comparisons before 2011 were dropped due to sampling methodology changes.

Estimated vaccine coverage with 4:3:1:3:3:1, which includes: 4 or more doses of Diphtheria, Tetanus & Acellular Pertussis Vaccine (DTaP); 3 or more doses of Poliovirus; 1 or more doses of Measles, Mumps & Rubella Vaccine (MMR); 3 or more doses of Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib); and 3 or more doses of Hepatitis B Virus (HepB) and 1 or more doses of varicella vaccine.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccine Coverage for Persons 65 Years and Older.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Immunization Rates in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is improving
State Influence:  

National Ranking: With a 74.6% child vaccination rate in 2013, Virginia ranks 34th in the nation. Adult vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia also ticked up a bit, but remain below earlier levels.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has developed the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS) to coordinate and track immunization info across the public and private sectors. By coordinating data exchanges with healthcare providers across the state, the system maintains definitive immunization histories on children and adults throughout the Commonwealth.

VDH's Vaccines for Children program purchases 1.2 million doses of vaccine annually for an estimated 584,000 program-eligible children. Vaccines are available at no charge to 829 participating private and public health care providers who administer it to the children they serve. A quality assurance team also annually visits 90% of public and private providers participating in the program.

Immunization coverage is assessed annually by VDH and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine Virginia's immunization rates both for children at 19-35 months of age and for compliance at school entry. Beginning in 2006, sixth graders are also assessed for compliance with middle school entry requirements. 

Disease reporting and investigation are critical parts of the prevention and control of communicable diseases. Staff at VDH conduct comprehensive disease surveillance and intervention activities to rapidly detect suspected cases of vaccine preventable disease and prevent its spread.

Additional Information

Project Immunize Virginia is a coalition of health professionals and community members dedicated to increasing immunizations for vaccine preventable diseases across the lifespan. Activities sponsored by PIV include "Vaccinate and Vote" for adults and "Vaccinate Before You Graduate" for adolescents.