Public perceptions and sentiments play a crucial role in the success of vaccine uptake in the community. While vaccines have proven to be the best preventive method to combat the flu, the attitude and knowledge about vaccines are a major hindrance to higher uptake in most of the countries. The yearly coverage, especially in the vulnerable groups in the population, often remains below the herd immunity level despite the Flu Awareness Campaign organized by WHO every year worldwide. This brings immense challenges to the nation’s public health protection agency for strategic decision-making in controlling the flu outbreak every year. To understand the impact of public perceptions and vaccination decisions while designing optimal immunization policy, we model the individual decision-making as a two-strategy pairwise contest game, where pay-off is considered as a function of public health effort for the campaign. We use Pontryagin’s maximum principle to identify the best possible strategy for public health to implement vaccination and reduce infection at a minimum cost. Our optimal analysis shows that the cost of public health initiatives is qualitatively and quantitatively different under different public perceptions and attitudes towards vaccinations. When individual risk perception evolves with vaccine uptake or disease induced death, our model demonstrates a feed-forward mechanism in the dynamics of vaccination and exhibits an increase in vaccine uptake. Using numerical simulation, we also observe that the optimal cost can be minimized by putting the effort in the beginning and later part of the outbreak rather than during the peak. It confers that public health efforts towards disseminating disease severity or actual vaccination risk might accelerate the vaccination coverage and mitigate the infection faster. © 2020, Society for Mathematical Biology.