A bacteriophage lambda DNA vaccine expressing the small surface antigen (HBsAg) of hepatitis B was compared with Engerix B, a commercially available vaccine based on the homologous recombinant protein (r-HBsAg). Rabbits (five per group) were vaccinated intramuscularly at weeks 0, 5 and 10. Antibody responses against r-HBsAg were measured by indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, by limiting dilutions and by subtyping. Specific lymphocyte proliferation in vitro was also measured. After one vaccination, three of the five phage-vaccinated rabbits showed a strong antibody response, whereas no r-HBsAg-vaccinated animals responded. Following two vaccinations, all phage-vaccinated animals responded and antibody levels remained high throughout the experiment (220 days total). By 2 weeks after the second vaccination, antibody responses were significantly higher (P<0.05) in the phage-vaccinated group in all tests. After three vaccinations, one out of five r-HBsAg-vaccinated rabbit still failed to respond. The recognized correlate of protection against hepatitis B infection is an antibody response against the HBsAg antigen. When combined with the fact that phage vaccines are potentially cheap to produce and stable at a range of temperatures, the results presented here suggest that further studies into the use of phage vaccination against hepatitis B are warranted.