The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that measles could become a global threat again after 22 million babies missed their first dose of the vaccine amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

That number is 3 million more than in 2019 and is the largest increase in two decades.

According to the CDC morbidity and mortality weekly report, a decline of measles was reported in 2020, but at least 93 million people did not receive the vaccine, which poses an elevated risk for transmission and outbreaks. 

"Measles cases might have been underreported in 2020 because of reductions in health care-seeking behavior from patients, health facility availability and reporting, or overall pandemic-related health system disruptions," the CDC said. 

Measles is a highly contagious disease that reached a 23-year high in 2019 when it killed more than 200,000 people globally.

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From 2017 to 2019, there was a global resurgence of the disease that decreased in 2020, but the CDC and the World Health Organization believe outbreaks last year were underreported. 

Measles surveillance reduced in 2020, and the number of specimens submitted for measles testing was the lowest of the decade.

“While reported measles cases dropped in 2020, evidence suggests we are likely seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to grow around the world,” Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said in a statement.

The CDC and WHO are encouraging countries to continue vaccinating against COVID-19, but not at the cost of routine immunizations.

"It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another,” O'Brien said. 

Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: [email protected]

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC warns measles could become global threat after missed vaccinations

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