This report summarizes the discussions and recommendations from a consultation held in New York City, USA (31 January–2 February 2006) organized by the joint World Health Organization–United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The consultation discussed issues related to the design and implementation of phase IIB ‘test of concept’ trials (phase IIB-TOC), also referred to as ‘proof of concept’ trials, in evaluating candidate HIV vaccines and their implications for future approval and licensure. The results of a single phase IIB-TOC trial would not be expected to provide sufficient evidence of safety or efficacy required for licensure. In many instances, phase IIB-TOC trials may be undertaken relatively early in development, before manufacturing processes and capacity are developed sufficiently to distribute the vaccine on a large scale. However, experts at this meeting considered the pressure that could arise, particularly in regions hardest hit by AIDS, if a phase IIB-TOC trial showed high levels of efficacy. The group largely agreed that full-scale phase III trials would still be necessary to demonstrate that the vaccine candidate was safe and effective, but emphasized that governments and organizations conducting trials should consider these issues in advance. The recommendations from this meeting should be helpful for all organizations involved in HIV vaccine trials, in particular for the national regulatory authorities in assessing the utility of phase IIB-TOC trials in the overall HIV vaccine research and development process.