Vaccine efficacy is determined largely by cellular and humoral immunity as well as long-lasting immunological memory. IL-2 and IL-15 were evaluated in vaccinia vectors expressing HIV gp160 for the establishment of an effective vaccine strategy. Both IL-2 and IL-15 in the vaccinia vector induced strong and long-lasting antibody-mediated immunity as well as a short-term cytotoxic T cell response against HIV gp120. In addition, IL-15 also supported robust CD8+ T cell-mediated long-term immunity, whereas the CD8+ T cell-mediated immunity induced by IL-2 was short-lived. Moreover, we found that the cytokine milieu at the time of priming had surprisingly persistent effects on the character of the memory CD8 T cells long afterward with respect to their fate, functional activities, cytokine receptor expression, and antigen-independent proliferation.