GENEVA (Reuters) - Some 80 million children worldwide could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.N. agencies and the GAVI vaccine alliance said on Friday.

Data shows that "provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries," the World Health Organization, U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and GAVI said in a joint statement issued ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit set for June 4.

Travel restrictions, delays in vaccine deliveries, reluctance among some parents to leave their homes amid fear of exposure to coronavirus, and a lack of available health workers were behind what it said may be "unprecedented" disruption on a global scale since such expanded programmes began in the 1970s.

"We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.

"While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another," she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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