Vaccines and Dolly

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As she drove our sons to the pediatrician’s office, my wife burst into a version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine! I’m begging of you please vax your children!”

Parton would approve (and not only because my wife has a beautiful singing voice). The country music star donated $1 million to fund the medical research for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the CDC for children ages 5 to 11 years, there is no need to wait any longer. In clinical trials, the vaccine has prevented infection in 90% of children. For the small number of those who have contracted the coronavirus, symptoms were minimized and recovery shortened.

Yet, I know that not everyone is singing the vaccine’s praises. Vaccines have been politicized in this pandemic and there was already a movement against children’s vaccinations before the coronavirus. Unfounded rumors persist that those vaccines can cause autism and other cognitive disorders. These are outright falsehoods and lack any scientific evidence whatsoever.

But in terms of the COVID-19 vaccine, I suspect many people are misled by half-truths. There are reports of heart inflammation known as myocarditis and pericarditis developing in children after vaccination. However, Jesse Hansen, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, clarifies that not only is this very rare, but most cases have also been mild and short-lived, with patients recovering in a few days. Hansen also reports that heart inflammation occurs at much higher rates from a COVID infection.

Parton once said, “I like to give people information because everyone’s life is different, and everyone’s journey is different.” I agree that information is important. There was a helpful Q&A about COVID-19 vaccines with Michaela McCuddy, the Chatham County Public Health Department’s medical director, in last week’s News + Record.

But the key to overcoming resistance to vaccines is not only changing minds but attitudes. And there is no speech or presentation, no scientific report or newspaper editorial that can move our hearts quite like music.

In the 2019 podcast series “Dolly Parton’s America,” I learned that human rights leader Nelson Mandela was a Dolly fan. Before he became president of South Africa, Mandela was jailed for 27 years as a political prisoner. In the infamous Robben Island prison, he convinced the guards to play “Jolene” over the speakers.

Rather than hearing it as a song about a rival in a romantic relationship, Mandela heard “Jolene” striking chords about shared loss and fear. His fellow prisoners had lost their freedom and feared for their future; the guards feared the loss of their country and their power. I’m not suggesting that these are equal losses but that both the jailed and the jailer shared fundamental feelings. According to Mandela, these two groups of people connected through music.

Despite political and cultural differences, most of us parents share the fear of losing our children. This fear can cause us to view one another as enemies. Or, it might bring us together. We can break down the barriers of ideological differences which so often imprison our minds. The truth shall set us free (John 8:32).

Let’s give Dolly the last word. When she received her vaccination shot last February, she belted out on camera:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine! I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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