The European Commission President made a compelling case for Brexit when she conceded Britain’s independence had allowed it to operate more nimbly to secure supplies sooner. In recognition of the EU’s sluggish vaccine programme, she said: “Alone, a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a tanker.” Acting as a bloc of 27 countries made decision-making slower, she said.
“Before concluding a contract with a pharmaceutical company, the 27 member states had five full days to say whether they agreed or not.
“This naturally delays the process. Indeed, we must constantly put pressure on ourselves so that each step of the decision-making process is as fast and efficient as possible.”
Her remarks came as the EU slipped five weeks behind its target to vaccinate 70 per cent of all adults by the end of September, according to a study by German finance giants Allianz.
This week Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that one in five adults in the UK has now had his or her first dose.
Amid growing criticism of her handling of the bloc’s vaccine crisis, Mrs von der Leyen defended the deliberately slow rollout of jabs.
But the German politician conceded she had “underestimated” the challenges faced by the EU in securing sufficient supplies for its mass vaccination programme.
She added: “We have certainly underestimated the difficulties we are experiencing.We should have warned countries, explaining that at first the process would not be smooth, that there would be ups and downs.”
Downing Street secured a three-week head-start over Brussels by signing contracts with suppliers much earlier than the bloc.
As a result, Britain has raced ahead of the EU, dishing out almost 11 million jabs so far, at a rate of 15.5 doses per 100 people.
The EU, which has delivered 14.3 million jabs, is trundling along at a rate of 3.16 per 100 people.
On a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell admitted the bloc would need to turn to the Russian-made vaccine to plug its shortfall in supplies.
The Spaniard hailed the Sputnik V jab as “good news for the whole of mankind” and urged EU regulators to authorise it for use across member states.
Brussels is under increased pressure to fix its supply crisis.