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COVID-19 Impact | Dolly Parton: Singer, songwriter, pandemic saviour?

Her contribution, which became known as the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund, helped pay for the first part of the vaccine research.

November 18, 2020 / 07:36 PM IST

By Maria Cramer 

She wrote “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene” on the same day and built a theme park around herself. She has given memorable on-screen performances as a wisecracking hairstylist and harassed secretary. She even helped bring about the creation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Now, Dolly Parton’s fans are crediting her with saving the world from the coronavirus. It’s an exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek claim, to be sure. But for legions of admirers, Parton’s donation this spring to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which worked with the drugmaker Moderna to develop a coronavirus vaccine, was another example of how the singer’s generosity and philanthropy have made her one of the world’s most beloved artists.

“Shakespeare may have written King Lear during the plague, but Dolly Parton funded a COVID vaccine, dropped a Christmas album and a Christmas special,” author Lyz Lenz said on Twitter.

In April, Parton announced that she had donated $1 million to Vanderbilt after her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, a professor of surgery at the university, in Nashville, Tennessee, told her about the work researchers were doing to come up with a vaccine. Abumrad’s son, Jad Abumrad, is the creator of “Radiolab” and host of the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America.”

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Her contribution, which became known as the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund, helped pay for the first part of the vaccine research, which was led by Dr. Mark Denison, a professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt. The federal government eventually invested $1 billion in the creation and testing of the vaccine, but Denison said it was Parton’s money that funded the “critical” early stages of the research.

“Her money helped us develop the test that we used to first show that the Moderna vaccine was giving people a good immune response that might protect them,” Denison said Tuesday.

On Monday, after Moderna announced that early trials of the vaccine showed a 94.5% effectiveness rate, fans reacted rapturously.

“I want everyone to know that Dolly Parton gave us Buffy the TV series, the song 9 to 5, Dollywood, and of course the COVID vaccine,” wrote one fan on Twitter.

Ryan Cordell, an associate professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston, filmed himself singing a song about the vaccine to the tune of “Jolene.”

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiine, I’m begging of you please go in my arm,” he sang, while playing guitar and describing the virus as “beyond compare with spiky bursts of auburn hair that COVID, that corona emerald green.”

The lyrics were written by linguist Gretchen McCulloch, author of “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language.”

She said she wrote the lyrics in part because the song “Jolene,” about one woman begging another not to steal her man, has the “same desperate feel” that the pandemic has instilled in so many people.

Now McCulloch is hoping Parton might release her own vaccine song, she said.

“If Dolly Parton wants to record a vaccine PSA to the tune of ‘Jolene,’” she said, “I think everyone would be very pleased.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company
New York Times
first published: Nov 18, 2020 07:36 pm

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