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Can children get long COVID? | Child Rights



Children have been largely overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic; thankfully the majority of them get mild or even no symptoms if they catch the virus. Much of the discussion around the role of children in the pandemic has been about how they may spread the virus.

However, over time there has been a growing body of evidence that suggests that a proportion of children may develop long COVID, whether or not they had any symptoms when they actually contracted the virus.

Long COVID in adults is defined as signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.

So far there is no medical definition of long COVID in children but support groups and researchers say there may be up to 100 symptoms, including fatigue, “brain fog”, muscle aches, pain, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, dizziness, seizures, hallucinations and testicular pain. The cause of these symptoms is poorly understood, although findings suggest an ongoing immune reaction, after the virus has cleared, plays a part.

A study in Italy looked at 129 children aged between six and 16 years, diagnosed with COVID‐19 between March and November 2020. Some 96 of them had symptoms of COVID-19 during the acute infection phase, while 33 had no symptoms at all but tested positive. The study found that 42.6 percent of the children still had symptoms more than 60 days post-infection. Symptoms like fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems and palpitations were particularly frequent.

A similar case study was carried out in Sweden, focusing on a smaller group of five children aged from nine to 15. All five children had fatigue, dyspnoea (laboured breathing), heart palpitations or chest pain, and four had headaches, difficulties concentrating, muscle weakness, dizziness and sore throats six to eight months after the initial infection.

A recent report from the UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates that 12.9 per cent of UK children aged two to 11, and 14.5 per cent of children aged 12 to 16, still have symptoms five weeks after their initial infection with COVID-19. Almost 500,000 UK children have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020.

More research is needed but as the debate around vaccinating children against COVID-19 rages, it is important to acknowledge as part of that discussion the growing body of evidence that children appear to develop symptoms beyond the initial infection and these symptoms can be debilitating.

The lack of knowledge in this area is also a source of frustration for families who are presenting children to hospitals and GP surgeries with vague and varied symptoms and being turned away without adequate treatment and support. Campaigners are urging policymakers to invest in research in this area so that these children can be managed appropriately and return to normal life.

Until now, the focus has been on COVID-19 in adults. Perhaps now is the time to think about the long-term effects it can have on children. We urgently need research into both the effects the lockdown has had on children and also the long-term effects of the coronavirus on children. Both are vital to their future health.

Progress Report: COVID-19 vaccines for children

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has shown 100 percent efficacy against COVID-19 in 12-to-15-year-olds in the preliminary results of a phase 3 trial.

The phase 3 trial included 2,260 children in the US. A total of 18 cases of COVID-19 were observed in the placebo group whose members were given an alternative vaccine, while none were reported in the vaccinated group. The vaccine also elicited robust antibody responses and was well tolerated, with side effects consistent with those observed in participants aged 16 to 25.

After the success in its phase 2 trial, Pfizer applied for emergency authorisation for the vaccine in the US as well as other parts of the world, including Canada and Europe. According to the American medicines regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Under an EUA, the regulator may allow the use of unapproved medical products, or unapproved uses of approved medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when certain statutory criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

On May 10, the FDA authorised the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. Dr Janet Woodook, the agency’s acting commissioner, called the authorisation “a significant step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic”. She added: “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, approximately 1.5 million COVID-19 cases in individuals aged 11 to 17 have been reported in the US.

“Having a vaccine authorised for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “With science guiding our evaluation and decision-making process, the FDA can assure the public and medical community that the available data meet our rigorous standards to support the emergency use of this vaccine in the adolescent population 12 years of age and older.”

Prior to the US giving the vaccine the green light, Canada also approved its use in children over the age of 12. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser to Health Canada, the government’s medical agency, told reporters on May 6 that the vaccine was “safe and effective” and would allow a return to “a more normal life” amid the pandemic. She added that the most common side effects for children are mild and temporary, like “a sore arm, chills or fever”.

Europe and the UK are yet to give their approval of the Pfizer vaccine in those aged 12 to 15, but most experts agree part of the solution to this global pandemic has to be vaccinating children.

[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

Personal account: Online abuse for talking about vaccines

The last few months have been a huge test for me, as a doctor, on many levels. Working on the front line during a pandemic has been a challenge; seeing my patients get sick from COVID-19 in the numbers that they did was hard. Seeing some of them die from the virus was even more difficult and then following that up with conversations with their bereft loved ones only added to the heartbreak. I know many of my colleagues on the front line feel exhausted due to the toll the last year has taken on their mental health.

But then the COVID-19 vaccines were given the green light and a hugely successful vaccine programme was rolled out here in the UK, as well as in other countries. To encourage people to take up the vaccine, I was asked by the government to be part of vaccine advertising campaigns and, because I have mixed Pakistani and Indian heritage, much of my messaging was aimed at people from a South Asian background. I was also part of the campaign to encourage social distancing measures and testing, all of which I agreed to do because I had seen first-hand what the virus does to people.

In hindsight, I think I was naïve, because the thing I was not prepared for was the level of abuse I have sadly received online.

For encouraging the vaccine, I have been accused of being a “paid media shill” – something I had to look up because I had never heard that expression before. Essentially, it seemed that some people thought I was part of a larger organisation that operated in the shadows and had plans to inject the human race with a substance that would allow mind control!

I batted that one off as crazy. But then things became more personal, with people messaging me to tell me I would have “blood on my hands” when people died from the vaccine. Direct threats to my wellbeing were also made, and sinister letters started arriving at my surgery. I reported it to the social media sites, which did nothing. I also reported some of the direct threats to the police, who were more helpful.

However, it was not until I started reporting on research into the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children that the real abuse began.

I will be honest; I understand that the use of vaccines in children stirs up a lot of emotions for people. The majority of children get mild or no symptoms from COVID-19, so are we giving children the vaccine to protect others? Is that completely ethical?

On the flip side, a small number of children have died as a result of a coronavirus infection across the world, and, as I have reported earlier in this column, it would appear the risk of long COVID in children is real. Furthermore, to reach the level of herd immunity required in a population to reduce virus spread, vaccinating children makes sense.

I have been very careful about giving my personal opinion on this matter and have been guided by the evidence which suggests the vaccines are safe and effective in young people. When I went on UK television to simply report the findings of the Pfizer vaccine in children I was bombarded with abusive messages, which ranged from calling me a “child murderer” to some people calling me a “paedophile”. And this was simply for reporting on the study, not giving my opinion. Once again, I received messages that threatened my safety which had to be reported to the police.

I am only human; there is only so much abuse I can take before it takes a toll on my mental health. Some may say this is the price you pay for being on social media, and in some ways, they may be right – speaking to my NHS colleagues, I understand many have received abuse when sharing their stories about front-line work during the pandemic or for promoting vaccine uptake.

The easy answer is for the social media channels to police this kind of abuse more robustly, but they do not. So, it is for us to think long and hard before sending messages to people on social media, especially if they are negative ones. You may type it, send it and then forget about it, but believe me, the effect of it stays with the recipient for a long time.

[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

And now, some good news: Woman gives birth to baby while in a coma from COVID-19

Marriam Ahmad was 29 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital in Wales, UK, with symptoms of COVID-19. She had asthma and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Her breathing became more laboured. The doctors planned to perform an emergency caesarean section on Marriam while she was still conscious but, as her health became worse, she was told she would need to be put on a ventilator and into an induced coma and that she may not survive at all.

Marriam only had time to call her parents before being put on a ventilator. Marriam’s baby was born on January 18 at 8:27pm BST (19:27 GMT) while Marriam was unconscious. The baby was taken straight to neonatal intensive care. Thankfully, Marriam woke up the next day but was not able to remember a thing. She was not able to see her baby girl as they were both too unwell to be moved, but she did get to see pictures of her. Luckily, the baby, named Khadija, did not have any of the complications that can occur in pre-term babies and, after eight weeks in hospital, both mum and baby returned home.

“I am just so grateful – that she’s still alive, that I am still alive,” Marriam said of her experience.

Reader’s question: How can I prevent my child from catching COVID-19?

It is important to remember that the vast majority of children have few, if any, symptoms when they catch COVID-19. And, with mounting evidence that vaccines in adults reduce transmission rates across the board, the chances of your child getting sick from COVID-19 is small.

Saying that, it is important to stick to your local guidelines: handwashing and social distancing are still key, but experts are now focusing on another aspect of prevention: ventilation. We have learned over time that the most likely way the virus is spread is via airborne particles. These are small particles containing the virus that can linger in the air. So, if there is good airflow or ventilation then these are likely to be moved on before anyone can breathe them in. Static airflow means they stay in the air for hours, increasing the risk of spread.

So it is always worth ventilating indoor spaces and finding ways to improve your ventilation if you want to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to either adults or children.

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Biden Officials Now Expect Vulnerable Americans to Need Booster Shots




WASHINGTON — Biden administration health officials increasingly think that vulnerable populations will need booster shots even as research continues into how long the coronavirus vaccines remain effective.

Senior officials now say they expect that people who are 65 and older or who have compromised immune systems will most likely need a third shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, two vaccines based on the same technology that have been used to inoculate the vast majority of Americans thus far. That is a sharp shift from just a few weeks ago, when the administration said it thought there was not enough evidence to back boosters yet.

On Thursday, a key official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency is exploring options to give patients with compromised immune systems third doses even before regulators broaden the emergency use authorization for coronavirus vaccines, a step that could come soon for the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr. Amanda Cohn, the chief medical officer of the C.D.C.’s immunizations division, told an advisory committee to the agency that officials were “actively looking into ways” to provide certain people access to booster shots “earlier than any potential change in regulatory decisions.”

“So stay tuned,” she added.

The growing consensus within the administration that at least some Americans will need a booster is tied in part to research suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine is less effective against the coronavirus after about six months. More than half of those fully vaccinated in the United States so far have received Pfizer’s vaccine, in two doses administered three weeks apart.

Pfizer’s continuing global study of its clinical trial participants shows that four to six months after the second dose, the vaccine’s effectiveness against symptomatic infection drops from a high of 95 percent to 84 percent, according to the company.

Data from the Israeli government, which has fully vaccinated more than half of its population with Pfizer doses since January, also points to a downward trend in effectiveness over time, although administration officials are viewing that data cautiously because of wide margins for error.

The most recent figures from the Israeli Ministry of Health, released late this week, suggested that Pfizer’s vaccine was just 39 percent effective in preventing infection in that country in late June and early July, compared to 95 percent from January to April.

The vaccine remained more than 90 percent effective in preventing severe disease, and nearly as effective in preventing hospitalization. Israel began offering a third Pfizer dose to citizens with severely weakened immune systems on July 12.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who heads the infectious disease division of the National Institutes of Health, said he was surprised by the apparent steep falloff in the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness that the Israeli data seems to suggest. He said he wanted to compare it with data that the C.D.C. had been gathering from cohorts of thousands of people across the United States. “People are sort of raising their eyebrows a bit,” he said.

While other questions abound, senior administration officials said it appeared increasingly clear that the vaccines would not grant indefinite immunity against the virus, and that boosters might be necessary for at least some people perhaps nine months after their first shot. The administration has already purchased more than enough vaccine to deliver third doses of both Pfizer and Moderna, and has been quietly preparing to expand the distribution effort, should it become necessary.

With so little data yet public, many health officials and experts have spoken cautiously about booster shots. Dr. Paul A. Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s outside advisory committee of vaccine experts, said a rise in mild or moderate cases of Covid-19 among vaccinated people did not necessarily mean a booster was required.

“The goal of this vaccine is not to prevent mild or low, moderate infectious disease,” he said. “The goal is to prevent hospitalization to death. Right now this vaccine has held up to that.”

Prematurely dangling the prospect of a third dose could also work as a deterrent against vaccination, other health experts warn. If Americans think that immunity from the vaccines is short-lived, they said, they may be less likely to get their initial shot.

“We don’t want people to believe that when you’re talking about boosters, that means that the vaccines are not effective,” Dr. Fauci testified at a congressional hearing Tuesday. “They are highly effective.”

Among the vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer has been especially proactive in sharing its data with the government. But the administration was taken aback by the company’s public announcement this month that it planned to seek emergency authorization from the F.D.A. for a booster shot.

The company said that early data from its booster study showed the level of neutralizing antibodies among clinical trial participants who received a third dose six months after the second was five to 10 times as high as among two-dose recipients.

Fearful the American public would get the wrong message, the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. reacted with an unusual public statement saying, “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.” They added, “We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.”

Typically, the F.D.A. would authorize use of a booster, perhaps after a meeting of its outside advisory committee. Then the C.D.C., which has its own advisory committee, would need to formally recommend it, Dr. Offit said.

But if the F.D.A. fully licenses a vaccine, doctors would have vastly more leeway to prescribe a booster for their patients. Some health experts expect that Pfizer could receive that approval by this fall.

At the C.D.C. advisory panel’s meeting Thursday, Dr. Cohn, the medical officer for the vaccine division, suggested that it might be possible to offer booster shots to those with weakened immune systems through an investigational study or other avenues, without waiting for the F.D.A.

Dr. Camille Kotton, an infectious disease expert with Massachusetts General Hospital, told the panel that some patients, especially those who are more educated or “empowered to take care of their own health care,” are managing to get a third dose on their own, despite the lack of a green light from the government.

“Many have taken matters into their own hands,” she said. “I am concerned about them doing this kind of in an unsupervised fashion,” she said, while doctors’ hands are tied because of the lack of regulatory approval.

People with compromised immune systems make up 2.7 percent of the population, according to the C.D.C., and include those with cancer, organ or stem cell transplants or H.I.V., among other conditions.

At Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate’s health committee, several senators grilled administration health officials on how soon they would act on the question of boosters. Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, said he was unhappy that officials could not provide a better timetable.

Senator Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, noted that Israel was already offering some of its most vulnerable citizens a third shot. “Why aren’t we making the same decisions?” he asked.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., testified that scientists were studying the vaccines’ efficacy in tens of thousands of people, including nursing home residents and more than 5,000 essential workers.

“Fortunately, we’re anticipating that this will wane and not plummet,” she said of their efficacy. “As we see that waning, we — that will be our time for action.”

Pfizer is expected to soon publicize its clinical trial research about waning immunity and the benefits of a booster shoot in articles in a peer-reviewed journal. Moderna has yet to release data on any booster studies, officials said.

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has so far played a minor role in the nation’s vaccination campaign. Clinical trial data on how that vaccine works with two shots is expected next month.

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

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Hole Blasted In Guntrader: UK Firearms Sales Website’s CRM Database Breached, 111K Users’ Info Spilled Online




Criminals have hacked into a Gumtree-style website used for buying and selling firearms, making off with a 111,000-entry database containing partial information from a CRM product used by gun shops across the UK. The Register reports: The Guntrader breach earlier this week saw the theft of a SQL database powering both the buy-and-sell website and its electronic gun shop register product, comprising about 111,000 users and dating between 2016 and 17 July this year. The database contains names, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, user geolocation data, and more including bcrypt-hashed passwords. It is a severe breach of privacy not only for Guntrader but for its users: members of the UK’s licensed firearms community. Guntrader spokesman Simon Baseley told The Register that had emailed all the users affected by the breach on July 21 and issued a further update yesterday.

Guntrader is roughly similar to Gumtree: users post ads along with their contact details on the website so potential purchasers can get in touch. Gun shops (known in the UK as “registered firearms dealers” or RFDs) can also use Guntrader’s integrated gun register product, which is advertised as offering “end-to-end encryption” and “daily backups”, making it (so Guntrader claims) “the most safe and secure gun register system on today’s market.” [British firearms laws say every transfer of a firearm (sale, drop-off for repair, gift, loan, and so on) must be recorded, with the vast majority of these also being mandatory to report to the police when they happen…]

The categories of data in the stolen database are: Latitude and longitude data; First name and last name; Police force that issued an RFD’s certificate; Phone numbers; Fax numbers; bcrypt-hashed passwords; Postcode; Postal addresses; and User’s IP addresses. Logs of payments were also included, with Coalfire’s Barratt explaining that while no credit card numbers were included, something that looks like a SHA-256 hashed string was included in the payment data tables. Other payment information was limited to prices for rifles and shotguns advertised through the site. The Register recommends you check if your data is included in the hack by visiting Have I Been Pwned. If you are affected and you used the same password on Guntrader that you used on other websites, you should change it as soon as possible.

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Protest erupts at Myanmar’s Insein prison amid COVID outbreak | Military News




A protest has erupted at a prison in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon against what activists said was a worsening COVID-19 outbreak at the jail, which is used to hold opponents of February’s military takeover.

The protest on Friday was one of the first of its kind since the February 1 coup in the Southeast Asian country, where people across the country demonstrate daily against military rule.

Protest chants in opposition to the military government could be heard from inside the colonial-era Insein Prison early on Friday in videos recorded from outside the prison and posted by local residents to Facebook.

“End the dictatorship! Our cause! Protest, protest! Start, start! Revolution! Must prevail!” the call-and-response chant went.

The Thailand-based activist group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said the protest began in the women’s detention block and had been supported by some prison staff members. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

“A riot happened in the prison,” Myanmar Prison Department’s Deputy Director Chan Nyein Kyaw told state-run news outlet Myawaddy. “There was a negotiation and accepted the prisoners’ demands and requests.”

AAPP said the military had entered the prison compound earlier on Friday and confiscated staff weapons.

Prison spokesperson Zaw Zaw did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment about the protest and the report that the military had intervened. He told local media the protest had been brought under control. Calls to military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun went unanswered.

‘End standoff’

Diplomats called for an end to the standoff.

“We urge the relevant authorities to resolve the situation peacefully and respect the basic right to proper healthcare for all those detained inside this and other prisons,” a group of diplomatic missions including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and nine European Union member states said in a joint statement posted on Facebook.

Earlier this month, Myanmar freed more than 2,000 detainees from the prison, among them journalists and others who the military said had been held on incitement charges for taking part in protests.

Myanmar’s military has struggled to impose order and a growing COVID-19 outbreak has added to the chaos. Myanmar registered more than 6,000 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday after reporting 286 deaths a day earlier, both record highs.

The protest on Friday was one of the first of its kind since the February 1 coup in the Southeast Asian country, where people across the country demonstrate daily against military rule [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

Medics and funeral services have said the real death toll is far higher, with crematoriums unable to keep pace, and the military has arrested several doctors treating COVID-19 patients independently.

“The protest reportedly began because prisoners have not been provided with medical care, and neither have prison staff been given protection from COVID-19,” the AAPP statement said.

Nyan Win, a senior adviser to overthrown leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died in hospital on Tuesday after becoming infected with COVID-19 in the prison.

UK ambassador replaced

In a separate development, Myanmar has appointed a new temporary head of its embassy in London, the UK’s foreign ministry said, replacing the previous ambassador who was removed after breaking ranks with the military government over the coup.

The selection of the new “charge d’affaires ad interim” did not require the consent of the British government, a foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters, which first reported the move earlier on Friday.

More than 900 people opposing the military government have been killed by security forces since the coup, drawing international condemnation and sanctions including from the UK.

“The consent of the receiving State is not required,” the spokesperson said in a statement, citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The statement did not name the new appointee.

A spokesperson for the military-controlled government in Myanmar did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.

The Myanmar Accountability Project, a UK-based rights group, said the appointee for the London job was Htun Aung Kyaw, who served as a fighter pilot during a long army career.

A source familiar with the matter also said Htun Aung Kyaw was Myanmar’s new pick, but Reuters could not confirm that.

In a statement this week, the Myanmar Accountability Project urged the UK not to recognise the representative appointed by the military saying it would be “a gross double standard and a moral outrage”.

The former ambassador, Kyaw Zwar Minn, was locked out of the London embassy in April after calling for the release of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kyaw Zwar Minn remains in the UK and has urged the British government to refuse to recognise any envoys appointed by the military government and to send them back to Myanmar.

The UK has imposed sanctions on members of Myanmar’s military and some of its business interests following the coup, and has called for democracy to be restored.

The UK on Friday appointed a new ambassador to Myanmar, Pete Vowles, who previously worked in diplomatic and international development roles in Africa and Asia.

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NSO Group CEO Says Law-Abiding Citizens Have ‘Nothing To Be Afraid Of’




The CEO of NSO Group, whose spyware tools have reportedly been used to target journalists and activists, says that people who aren’t criminals shouldn’t be afraid of being surveilled AppleInsider reports: Shalev Hulio, 39, recently spoke to Forbes after investigations indicated that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used by authoritarian governments to hack and surveil the mobile devices of world leaders, high-profile journalists, and activists. NSO Group says that it sells its tools to governments to help them catch serious criminals like terrorists or gangsters. However, Hulio admitted that it can’t control what governments ultimately do with the tools. “We are selling our products to governments. We have no way to monitor what those governments do,” he said.

Hulio did note that NSO Group has mechanisms in place to detect when abuse happens so that the company can “shut them down.” He says that NSO Group has “done it before and will continue to do so. On the other hand, he said that NSO Group shouldn’t be responsible for government misuse. Additionally, Hulio said that the average smartphone has nothing to worry about. While NSO Group’s spyware can break into the latest iPhones running up-to-date software, often without any action from the user, it’s only aimed at criminals. “The people that are not criminals, not the Bin Ladens of the world — there’s nothing to be afraid of. They can absolutely trust on the security and privacy of their Google and Apple devices,” Hulio said.

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The Activision Blizzard Harassment Suit Feels Painfully Familiar




Gaming behemoth Activision Blizzard is the latest game company to face scrutiny for allegedly fostering a culture of sexism. A California Department of Fair Employment and Housing suit filed Wednesday alleges rampant sexual harassment and discrimination against Activision Blizzard’s female employees. The suit’s spotlight on Activision Blizzard’s structures and systems are painfully similar to those exposed by lawsuits and exposés around Riot Games and Ubisoft from the last several years.

The games industry’s reckoning with workplace inequality has been underway for years. Leading companies have been slow, even reticent, to answer for their reportedly discriminatory cultures, in some cases architecting fortresses of asylum around their more problematic employees and systems. Activision Blizzard has the opportunity to set a different tone. As of now, it seems unlikely to.

The games industry is notoriously male-dominated, and has long had a reputation for hostility to women. The 29-page DFEH complaint follows a two-year investigation into Activision Blizzard—publisher of high-profile titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch—and contains hair-raising allegations of misconduct, from harassment by top executives to so-called “cube crawls,” in which male employees would reportedly “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.” It describes a culture in which double standards prevented women from advancing and even remaining at the company; across the board, it says, women receive less pay than men for “substantially similar work.” The agency alleges that female employees receive a lower starting pay than men and are promoted more slowly. Only 24 percent of Activision Blizzard’s nearly 10,000 employees are women, and top leadership is almost entirely white and male.

In this “frat boy” culture, the complaint reads, men “proudly” came to work hungover, delegated responsibilities to women while they played games like Call of Duty, openly discussed sexual encounters, and even joked about rape. The complaint also alleges that employees and even executives sexually harassed female employees without repercussions. It states that a female employee who may have experienced sexual harassment at work—including an instance when coworkers at a party allegedly shared an intimate photo of her—later committed suicide. (In a statement, Activision Blizzard says, “We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family.”)

“We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement. “There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.” The company says it has made an effort over the last several years to bolster diversity, including helping employees report violations, adding a confidential hotline, and instituting a team to investigate workers’ concerns. Activision Blizzard claims that the DFEH complaint includes “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”

The DFEH is asking for relief for compensatory and punitive damages, unpaid wages, and attorneys fees. Citing the ongoing investigation, the department declined to respond to WIRED’s request for comment.

The Activision Blizzard revelations echo those around Riot Games in 2018 and Ubisoft in 2020. Just as gaming culture at large has been slow to embrace women and minorities, gaming companies previously accused of fostering cultures of sexism have been slow to evolve.

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