Persistent virus infections are increasingly being recognized as a significant cause of human morbidity and mortality. To establish persistence, a virus must establish infection and evade eradication by the host immune response, in particular by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). We have studied a virus that establishes persistence in part by suppressing the CTL response of the infected host. The virus persists in many cell types, including lymphocytes and macrophages. We show that prior immunization with a vaccine designed to induce CTL (in the absence of antiviral antibody) confers complete protection against subsequent establishment of persistence in all tissues analyzed. The vaccine can be designed to express as few as 10 amino acids of a viral protein that comprise the CTL epitope. Further, two CTL epitopes for two discrete MHC haplotypes can be successfully used in a single vaccine that protects both strains of mice. Hence, a "string of CTL epitopes" (beads) concept for vaccination is feasible. Finally, the CTL vaccine provided protection against the establishment of persistence by an immunosuppressive virus.