The emergence in vaccinated individuals of hepatitis B virus (HBV) mutants with amino acid substitutions within the a determinant of the surface protein has raised the possibility that such variants represent neutralization escape mutants. We previously demonstrated that one such mutant HBV, strain AS, with an arginine substituted for glycine at surface gene codon 145, was infectious and pathogenic in seronegative chimpanzees. In the present study, the protective efficacy of licensed hepatitis B vaccines was evaluated against challenge with this mutant virus. Four chimpanzees were immunized with 1 of 2 licensed recombinant hepatitis B vaccines. Shortly after the chimpanzees developed antibodies to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs), they were challenged intravenously with mutant HBV strain AS. Two unvaccinated chimpanzees served as positive controls. The 4 vaccinated chimpanzees did not develop evidence of HBV infection or hepatitis during 2 years following virus challenge. In contrast, the 2 unvaccinated chimpanzees developed HBV infection and hepatitis. Serum anti-HBs in the vaccinated chimpanzees reacted not only with wild-type surface antigen, but also with mutant surface antigen by competition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Thus, immunization of chimpanzees with licensed recombinant hepatitis B vaccines stimulates anti-HBs that is broadly reactive and affords protection against infection with a surface gene mutant of HBV, suggesting that properly immunized individuals are not at significant risk of infection with this prototype variant strain of HBV.