Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is a re-emerging virus of human, agriculture, and bioweapon threat importance. No FDA-approved treatment is available to combat Venezuelan equine encephalitis in humans, prompting the need to create a vaccine that is safe, efficacious, and cannot be replicated in the mosquito vector. Here we describe the use of a serotype ID VEEV (ZPC-738) vaccine with an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) to alter gene expression patterns. This ZPC/IRES vaccine was genetically engineered in two ways based on the position of the IRES insertion to create a vaccine that is safe and efficacious. After a single dose, both versions of the ZPC/IRES vaccine elicited neutralizing antibody responses in mice and non-human primates after a single dose, with more robust responses produced by version 2. Further, all mice and primates were protected from viremia following VEEV challenge. These vaccines were also safer in neonatal mice than the current investigational new drug vaccine, TC-83. These results show that IRES-based attenuation of alphavirus genomes consistently produce promising vaccine candidates, with VEEV/IRES version 2 showing promise for further development.