Did Dolly Parton Help Fund Research for a COVID-19 Treatment?

Country music icon Dolly Parton’s reputation for philanthropy grew in April 2020 after reports appeared of her involvement in research for an antibody treatment against COVID-19.

The singer announced on her Instagram account on April 1 2020 that she would donate $1 million toward researchers at Vanderbilt University, citing Dr. Naji Abumrad, a professor of surgery at the school’s medical center, who she described as a longtime friend.

“He was telling me they had come up with a bridge treatment to save lives while they find the vaccine,” Parton told NBC’s Today Show. “I don’t know exactly all the details about it, but they’re very excited about it, it’s something very helpful. I just felt like this was the time for me to open my heart and my hand and try to help with that.”

The center posted its own report on the donation the following day:

VUMC’s researchers are testing an array of already existing drugs in urgent clinical trials aimed at reducing life-threatening symptoms associated with COVID-19. In addition, investigators are focusing on entirely new therapies that could effectively treat and prevent the infection. Both strategies are aimed at providing a bridge for those infected, given a safe and effective vaccine is projected to be 12-18 months away.

“Dolly’s amazing generosity is a source of inspiration and will have a lasting impact on the battle against COVID-19. She cares so much about helping others and we are very grateful for her ongoing support. These funds will help us complete promising research that can benefit millions in their battle with the virus,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The story gained new life on Twitter twice over. First, journalist Yashar Ali posted a link on April 28 2020, mentioning Parton in a story posted by the health news and information site StatNews about research into vaccines and treatments against COVID-19:

To see Dolly’s name in this vaccine tracker makes me so happy. https://t.co/ho94m1bYfv pic.twitter.com/83FXYPGWnl

— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) April 27, 2020

“To see Dolly’s name in this vaccine tracker makes me so happy,” Ali wrote. His tweet was then picked up by Ian Hartshorn, a professor at the University of Nevada-Reno.  “All those celebrities: ‘We sang a song on our phone!,'” Hartshorn wrote. “Dolly Parton: ‘I teamed up with the NIH and DoD to make a vaccine.'”

The news of Parton’s involvement with COVID-19 treatment research coincided with a spate of reports bringing back to light her involvement with the Buffy The Vampire Slayer franchise; Parton and former manager Sandy Gallin founded Sandollar Productions, the company that produced both the original Buffy movie in 1992 and its television adaptation, which aired from 1997 to 2003. As Entertainment Weekly reported, both Gallin and Sandollar executive Gail Berman were listed as producers in the end credits on every episode of the show, while Parton was not mentioned. But titular heroine Buffy Summers was given Parton’s birthday, January 19.