Athymic, nude mice, which normally succumb to virus infection, can resolve infection with recombinant vaccinia virus (rVV) engineered to express IL-2. We have demonstrated that interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) produced by natural killer (NK) cells and other immunocytes in response to the virus-encoded interleukin-2 (IL-2) is crucial to recovery. Here, we extend this work to show that nude mice, when primed intravenously with rVV co-expressing both IL-2 and an influenza virus haemagglutinin (HA) gene, are also protected following challenge with a lethal dose of homologous influenza virus. A substantial increase in the number of influenza virus-reactive antibody-secreting cells producing antibody of the IgM isotype, but not of the IgG or IgA isotypes, was found in spleens and lungs of the protected mice. Treatment with monoclonal antibodies to IFN-gamma or to the NK marker, as GM1, at challenge and thereafter, led to their death however, though the specific IgM antibody response was unaffected. These data suggest that both specific antibody and non-specific antiviral reactivity are important elements of the protective response and show that this immunization strategy may be used to protect severely immunocompromised individuals.