Dolly Parton funded the latest coronavirus vaccine, and it's just another example of the ultrawealthy singer's quiet policy work
- In April, Dolly Parton contributed $1 million to coronavirus research at Vanderbilt University.
- That research helped produce the Moderna vaccine, which the biotech firm said is 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19.
- Parton is a longtime philanthropist as well as a shrewd businesswoman.
- Now, she may be a part of vaccine history.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A report in the New England Journal of Medicine on the Moderna coronavirus vaccine has an eye-catching name in its paragraph of supporters: the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund.
Yes, that's legendary country singer Dolly Parton — and the name may not come as a surprise for those who are familiar with Parton's philanthropy and continual, quiet investments in changing the world around her.
Back in April, Parton announced that she would be donating $1 million to Vanderbilt University's coronavirus research, after hearing promising things from Vanderbilt professor of surgery Dr. Naji Abumrad. As Insider's Shira Feder reported, Parton and Abumrad first became friends in 2014, when Abumrad treated her following a minor car accident.
In an Instagram post, she wrote about her donation, and encouraged "people that can afford it to make donations."
On Monday, Moderna reported that its vaccine was 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19, per a preliminary analysis. Its CEO said every American could have access to a vaccine by June.
Parton has been a philanthropist for years
In 1995, Parton founded the Imagination Library in her home of Tennessee. The program gives free books to children up through the age of 5 years old. It now covers five countries, and according to its website, donates over 1 million books per year. In 2018, Parton donated her 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress.
Parton's inspiration for the program came from her father, who couldn't read or write. She writes in a "Letter from Dolly" that before her father died, he had told her that the Imagination Library was the "probably the most important thing I had ever done."
"I can't tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy," Parton writes. "He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams."
It's a testament to Parton's continual investment in the community where she was raised. In 2016, after wildfires swept through Sevier County, Tennessee, Parton and the Dollywood Foundation sprung to action with the "My People Fund." Every family personally impacted by the fires received $10,000, and the fund itself raised $12 million.
"Dolly's approach has always been collaborative," David Dotson, CEO of The Dollywood Foundation and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, said in a statement to Insider. He said that Dolly "inspires others and she uses this gift time after time," and the Imagination Library "would never be so vast if it weren't for all of those people she inspires" worldwide.
The same can be said for her work to help fire victims in Sevier County and for the vaccine research as well, Dotson said. "If our efforts can catalyze and energize others to take action, then we feel we can address any problem and at least, make it better."
Parton has long been a savvy — and compassionate — businesswoman
Parton's Dollywood — an amusement park in Pigeon Forge, which features a recreation of Dolly's two-room childhood home — has infused her home county with capital and employment. In 2017, the park paid $118 million in taxes, and had an economic impact of $1.53 billion. It employed 19,285 people at the time. A recent press release says it's the largest employer in Sevier County, although the park temporarily laid off 630 workers in April.
Parton has long been a shrewd businesswoman who has used her brand to her advantage, Lauren Michele Jackson writes in The New Yorker. She cofounded Sandollar Productions in 1986, which produced the television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and went on to found Dixie Pixie Productions, which produced a Netflix series based on Parton's songs.
Now, Parton's latest venture — her donation to Vanderbilt's research — could help the world turn a corner in the coronavirus pandemic.
When reached for comment, Parton's representatives directed Insider to her interview on The Today Show.
"I'm just happy that anything I do can help somebody else," Parton told The Today Show hosts, "and when I donated the money to the Covid fund, I just wanted it to do good. Evidently, it is."
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