We evaluated the immunogenicity and efficacy of hepatitis B vaccine (Heptavax-B) in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 1311 patients receiving hemodialysis in the United States. After three doses of vaccine (40 micrograms each) had been administered, 63 per cent of the patients were antibody-positive. After correction for possible passive transfer of antibodies by blood transfusion, only 50 per cent of vaccine recipients were considered vaccine responders. The incidence of hepatitis B viral infection during the 25 months of the trial was much lower than had been anticipated and was virtually the same in the vaccine and placebo recipients (6.4 and 5.4 per cent, respectively). Four cases of hepatitis B occurred in patients who had an apparent antibody response to the vaccine, but in each case either antibody had reached low or undetectable levels before hepatitis B surface antigen was detected or the patient had been receiving immunosuppressive therapy. This study did not demonstrate the efficacy of the vaccine in a population of patients receiving dialysis in whom both the rate of antibody response to hepatitis B vaccine and the viral attack rate were low. Other measures to control transmission of hepatitis B virus in dialysis units, including surveillance for hepatitis B surface antigen and isolation of patients who are positive for the antigen, must be continued.