The past few years have seen a rash of emerging viral diseases, including the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the pandemic spread of chikungunya, and the recent explosion of Zika in South America. Vaccination is the most reliable and cost-effective method of control of infectious diseases, however, there is often a long delay in production and approval in getting new vaccines to market. Vaccinia was the first vaccine developed for the successful eradication of smallpox and has properties that make it attractive as a universal vaccine vector. Vaccinia can cause severe complications, particularly in immune suppressed recipients that would limit its utility, but nonreplicating and attenuated strains have been developed. Modified vaccinia Ankara is nonreplicating in human cells and can be safely given to immune suppressed individuals. Vaccinia has recently been modified for use as an oncolytic treatment for cancer therapy. These new vaccinia vectors are replicating; but have been attenuated and could prove useful as a universal vaccine carrier as many of these are in clinical trials for cancer therapy. This article reviews the development of a universal vaccinia vaccine platform for emerging diseases or biothreat agents, based on nonreplicating or live attenuated vaccinia viruses.