Heartwater is an economically serious tick-borne disease of ruminants caused by the intracellular bacterium Ehrlichia ruminantium. The disease has traditionally been controlled by four different approaches : controlling the tick vector by dipping, establishing endemic stability, performing immunisation by infection and treatment, and preventing the disease by regular administration of prophylactic antibiotics. The first three of these methods are subject to failure for various epidemiological reasons, and serious disease outbreaks can occur. Prophylaxis is effective, but very expensive, and the logistics are daunting when large herds of animals are involved. The development of a safe, cheap and effective vaccine is the only likely way in which heartwater can be economically controlled, and over the past 15 years three new types of experimental vaccine have been developed: inactivated, attenuated, and recombinant vaccines. These new vaccines have shown varying degrees of promise, but none is as yet sufficiently successful to be marketable. We describe the experimental products, and the various technical and biological difficulties which are being encountered, and report on ways in which new technologies are being used to improve vaccine effectiveness.