A large number of children are at risk amid the growing measles threat worldwide.

Last year, a record high of nearly 40 million children missed their measles vaccination amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday.

Based on measles vaccination coverage in the past year, about 25 million children missed their first measles vaccine dose, and an additional 14.7 million missed their second dose.

The significant decline in vaccinations could be a setback to the worldwide mission of achieving and maintaining measles elimination. Data showed that around 40 million kids are now dangerously susceptible to measles.

Last year, approximately 128,000 global deaths due to measles were recorded. Meanwhile, an estimated 9 million people contracted the virus. This year, public health experts anticipate measles to become a big threat in every region of the world.

The decline in measles vaccination could be due to several factors, including weakened measles surveillance and delays in immunization programs and activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release.

He continued, “Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”

Nearly 61 million measles vaccine doses were delayed last year because of COVID-19-related restrictions in 18 countries. This has contributed to the big measles threat everyone is facing at present.

Earlier this month, a measles outbreak in Ohio reportedly spread to seven childcare facilities and one school with unvaccinated kids. This forced health authorities to work hard to contain the problem.

Measles, also called rubeola, causes an infection deemed critical and even fatal for small children. The virus had been less and less of an issue for years due to the worldwide vaccinations available. But the pandemic disrupted the vaccination programs, making it a threat to today’s unvaccinated children.

“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said.