Despite their significance, the only available vaccines against respiratory viruses are those for the prevention of influenza. Attempts have been made to produce vaccines against other respiratory viruses using traditional techniques, but have met with little success. Reverse genetics, although still a relatively new tool for the manipulation of negative-strand RNA viruses, has great potential for the preparation of vaccines against many of the common respiratory viruses. In the preparation of live vaccines, reverse genetics systems allow the direct modification of the specific regions in the genomes of negative-stranded RNA viruses concerned with attenuation; the ultimate goal is the introduction of site-specific mutations through a cDNA intermediate in order to develop strains with the requisite attenuation, antigenic and growth properties needed in a vaccine. These techniques can also be used to disarm potentially highly pathogenic viruses, such as emerging H5N1 avian influenza viruses, in order to facilitate large-scale preparation of viruses for use in inactivated vaccines under conditions of manufacturing safety. Before these vaccines become available, residual issues concerned with intellectual property rights to the technology and its application will need to be resolved.