The recent worldwide spread of the swine-origin H1N1 2009 influenza outbreak has resulted in its designation as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. While it appears to result in mild symptoms, concern still exists that a more severe influenza pandemic with a high case fatality ratio might arise by reassortment or mutation of the currently circulating avian influenza (H5N1) virus. Given that recently developed candidate pre-pandemic H5N1 vaccines have shown potential for cross-strain protection, we investigated alternative vaccination strategies that exploit such vaccines using an agent-based simulation model of an actual community of approximately 30 000 people in a developed country. Assuming that a two-dose vaccination regimen would be required, we examined three vaccination strategies: pre-emptive, with vaccination applied prior to emergence of human-transmissible H5N1 influenza; reactive, where vaccination was initiated immediately after the first cases in the community were diagnosed; and a ‘split’ strategy where the first dose was administered pre-emptively during the pre-pandemic phase, with the second dose administered reactively. We showed that by effectively moving the delay between first and second doses into the pre-pandemic period, the split vaccination strategy achieved a substantially better attack rate reduction than the reactive strategy. Our results for an influenza strain with a reproduction number of 1.5 suggest reactive vaccination strategies that may be applicable to the current H1N1 2009 pandemic.