A surreal year became just a touch more surreal with news that the coronavirus vaccine created by US firm Moderna was part funded by Country and Western singer Dolly Parton

Does she have a keen interest in epidemiology?

Not as such. But she is well-known for her philanthropy and Moderna’s financial shot in the arm (sorry) came by means of a $1 million (£752,000) donation the 74-year-old made to Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in her hometown of Nashville. It was one of the major trial sites for the vaccine, which has a 95% efficacy. “I’m a very proud girl today to know I had anything at all to do with something that’s going to help us through this crazy pandemic,” she said when news of her largesse came to light.

Why the interest in medicine?

According to the New York Times, Parton became interested in the work the university when she was told about it by a friend, Dr. Naji Abumrad, a professor of surgery there. She met him after she had a minor car accident. Abumrad’s son Jad, meanwhile, is a US radio broadcaster and host of the popular Dolly Parton’s America podcast. Part-biography, part-cultural investigation – Abumrad’s starting point was why Parton remains such an icon – it has proved quite a hit.

So why is she such an icon?

Where do you start? With 51 Grammy nominations and 11 wins in a 50 year career the body of work speaks for itself. Beyond that there’s her already-mentioned philanthropical ventures, such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which delivers free books to children from when they are born until they start school. And of course she has her own theme park, Dollywood, located in the evocatively named Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

What has been the reaction?

Those who know about Parton’s track record and her all-round cool aren’t particularly surprised but just in case there’s anybody on the planet who hasn’t heard her fans took to Twitter to proclaim the news. “Shakespeare may have written King Lear during the plague, but Dolly Parton funded a Covid vaccine, dropped a Christmas album and a Christmas special,” said author and cultural critic Lyz Lenz. Another wrote: “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”.

Woah, back up. Buffy The Vampire Slayer?

Oh yes, another recipient of Parton’s beneficence was the cult 1990s series in which Sarah Michelle Gellar battled the undead in fictitious Sunnydale High School. Parton’s name never appeared on the credits though the fact that she and Buffy share the same birthday – January 19 – was a clue.

Surely this deserves a song?

Funnily enough it already has one. In tribute, Boston-based professor of English Ryan Cordell and linguist and author Gretchen McCulloch have cooked up a neat take on Parton’s 1973 smash Jolene and Cordell has filmed himself singing it. It goes a little something like this: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiiiiine, I’m beggin’ of you please go in my arm …”