Summary Hepatitis C virus (HCV) was discovered more than two decades ago, but progress towards a vaccine has been slow. HCV infection will spontaneously clear in about 25% of people. Studies of spontaneous HCV clearance in chimpanzees and human beings have identified host and viral factors that could be important in the control of HCV infection and the design of HCV vaccines. Although data from studies of chimpanzees suggest that protection against reinfection is possible after spontaneous clearance, HCV is a human disease. Results from studies of reinfection risk after spontaneous clearance in injecting drug users are conflicting, but some people seem to have protection against HCV persistence. To guide future vaccine development, we assess data from studies of HCV reinfection after spontaneous clearance, discuss flaws in the methods of previous human studies, and suggest essential components for future investigations of control of HCV infection.