Cidofovir (CDV) is a broad-spectrum antiviral agent that has been approved for clinical use in the treatment of cytomegalovirus retinitis. It has also been used off label to treat a variety of other viral infections, including those caused by orf and molluscum contagiosum poxviruses. Because it is a dCMP analog, CDV is thought to act by inhibiting viral DNA polymerases. However, the details of the inhibitory mechanism are not well established and nothing is known about the mechanism by which the drug inhibits poxvirus DNA polymerases. To address this concern, we have studied the effect of the active intracellular metabolite of CDV, CDV diphosphate (CDVpp), on reactions catalyzed by vaccinia virus DNA polymerase. Using different primer-template pairs and purified vaccinia virus polymerase, we observed that CDV is incorporated into the growing DNA strand opposite template G's but the enzyme exhibits a lower catalytic efficiency compared with dCTP. CDV-terminated primers are also good substrates for the next deoxynucleoside monophosphate addition step, but these CDV + 1 reaction products are poor substrates for further rounds of synthesis. We also noted that although CDV can be excised from the primer 3' terminus by the 3'-to-5' proofreading exonuclease activity of vaccinia virus polymerase, DNAs bearing CDV as the penultimate 3' residue are completely resistant to exonuclease attack. These results show that vaccinia virus DNA polymerase can use CDVpp as a dCTP analog, albeit one that slows the rate of primer extension. By inhibiting the activity of the proofreading exonuclease, the misincorporation of CDV could also promote error-prone DNA synthesis during poxvirus replication.