Vaccine development against pathogenic bacteria is an imperative initiative as bacteria are gaining resistance to current antimicrobial therapies and few novel antibiotics are being developed. Candidate antigens for vaccine development can be identified by a multitude of high-throughput technologies that were accelerated by access to complete genomes. While considerable success has been achieved in vaccine development against bacterial pathogens, many species with multiple virulence factors and modes of infection have provided reasonable challenges in identifying protective antigens. In particular, vaccine candidates should be evaluated in the context of the complex disease properties, whether planktonic (e.g. sepsis and pneumonia) and/or biofilm associated (e.g. indwelling medical device infections). Because of the phenotypic differences between these modes of growth, those vaccine candidates chosen only for their efficacy in one disease state may fail against other infections. This review will summarize the history and types of bacterial vaccines and adjuvants as well as present an overview of modern antigen discovery and complications brought about by polymicrobial infections. Finally, we will also use one of the better studied microbial species that uses differential, multifactorial protein profiles to mediate an array of diseases, Staphylococcus aureus, to outline some of the more recently identified problematic issues in vaccine development in this biofilm-forming species.