CDC starts 'Wild to Mild' campaign to reverse falling flu vaccine use in key groups

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to reset expectations for flu vaccines to correct falling uptake. After tracking declines in vaccine use in pregnant people and children, the health body has initiated its “Wild to Mild” campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination and encourage more people to get their shots.

Influenza is a particular threat to pregnant people and children. More than 100 children, most of whom were not vaccinated, died after catching influenza during the 2022-23 flu season and studies have found infection during pregnancy can cause severe illness and lead to negative outcomes including a reduction in birth weight. Yet, vaccine use has fallen in both demographic groups since the start of the pandemic.

The CDC, which has tracked a 16.6 percentage point drop in vaccine use in pregnancy, has responded to the trends with its “Wild to Mild” campaign. The message is based on evidence that breakthrough cases have people concerned about vaccine effectiveness and that many people are unaware shots can lessen symptoms even if they fail to prevent infections.

With the focus groups suggesting that the potential for vaccines to lessen symptoms resonates with the public, the CDC has created a series of graphics about how flu shots can make infections go from “Wild to Mild.” Each of the graphics features a wild animal, such as a bear or a lion, and a cuter, less-threatening equivalent, such as a cuddly toy or a kitten.

The CDC settled on the approach after consumer testing found the message “was well received across parents and pregnant people, as it challenged the belief that flu vaccine is meant to prevent flu and reset expectations around flu vaccine.” Many people who viewed the information perceived it to be “truthful” and “realistic” and the honesty translated into “elevated impressions of CDC.”

Having settled on the concept for the digital campaign, the CDC plans to spread the message through paid ad placements, organic social media content, “microinfluencer partnerships” and other activities.