The Springhill Penitentiary in Springhill, N.S., is one of five federal prisons slated to receive COVID-19 vaccines to start administering to their inmates.

The pilot project put on by the federal government will begin Friday, when elderly prisoners and those with pre-existing conditions will be the first to receive the shots.

Prison officers and employees are not part of the program, according to the union representing Canadian correctional officers.

As part of the initial rollout, 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be delivered to five prisons across the country. In total, 600 federal inmates will receive the vaccine, with each inmate receiving the required two shots within a few weeks.

Adelina Iftene, a professor at the Shulich School of Law at Halifax's Dalhousie University, is welcoming the pilot project.

“If you were serving time in a federal penitentiary during the first wave of the pandemic, you were 13 times more likely to get COVID-19, and if you’re a woman in federal prisons, you’re 70 times more likely to get COVID-19,” said Iftene.

Iftene says it’s all in an effort to tackle COVID-19 hotspots after several Canadian prisons declared outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

“It makes sense, logically and from a public health perspective, to focus our resources towards the sites that are becoming hot spots, regardless of our personal feelings,” said Iftene.

The president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says the workers should also be vaccinated,

“People are very close to one another in there. Members are going to work in there every single day and they need to be protected,” said Jeff Wilkins, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Many essential workers and people with loved ones in healthcare aren’t in support of the decision either.

“I get why they would be near the front of the list; it is an institutionalist environment, similar to a hospital or a nursing home, but I don’t think they should be done before any of the seniors who are out in the general public,” said Leslie Schnare Harnish. “They should have more priority, I think, but where do they fall in the queue and where do we all fall in the queue?"

“When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, we live in a country of freedom. Freedom of choice and by not being able to keep that accessible to all our front-line workers, it’s taken that freedom of choice away from them. They are the ones who are the heroes in all of this,” said Joanne Ozon.

Corrections Canada says it will prioritize older offenders by age and underlying medical conditions.