In an interview with 10 European news organisations, Ms von der Leyen said: “I’m aware that a country might be a speedboat and the EU more a tanker.
“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.
“But I am absolutely convinced that the European approach is the right one. On these vaccines, we worked faster than usual. I can’t even imagine what it would have meant for Europe, in terms of unity, if one or more member states had access to vaccines and not the others.”
Covid-19 vaccines used across the UK are safe, new MHRA analysis shows
The EU reneged on the threat last week, and both sides have since called for a diplomatic “reset” in relations.
Ms von der Leyen recently came under pressure over a shortage of vaccines for the EU. At one point the EU called for doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid jabs be sent from British plants to make up for a shortfall in supplies for its member states.
The European Commission president acknowledged in her interview that the EU had “underestimated” the pace of the industrial process of how Covid vaccines are created.
“A start of vaccination does not mean a seamless flow of vaccine doses coming from the industry,” said Ms von der Leyen.
“This is a bitter learning part, and this we certainly have underestimated.”
In a previous interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Ms von der Leyen suggested Britain had been able to roll it out ahead of the EU because it had adopted “emergency, 24-hour marketing authorisation procedures”.
In contrast, she said a decision has been taken in Brussels that there should be no compromise on “safety and efficacy” procedures.
“The commission and the member states agreed not to compromise with the safety and efficacy requirements linked to the authorisation of a vaccine,” she said.
“Time had to be taken to analyse the data, which, even minimised, takes three to four weeks.”
In response, Downing Street said the UK regulator – the MHRA – had carried out an “extremely thorough” evaluation of the vaccines developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that in each case the head of the MHRA, Dr June Raine, had set out the rationale for approvals as well as the reasons for extending the gap between the first and second doses to 12 weeks.
“Dr June Raine has set them out on a number of occasions and was very clear that no corners were cut, no stones were left unturned that their recommendation was based on an extremely thorough evaluation of all the data from the clinical trials,” the spokesman said.
“It is on that basis that the public should be confident of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.”