Im not a vegetarian, but I have read alot about it I'm responding now based on observation, personal opinion with a dash of experience.
No, vegetarians are not truly healthier than meat eaters. While there are health benefits, your health is based on your food choices. If you are vegetarian and you choose to eat french fries and fried zucchini, the meat eater who has a lean sirloin steak and steamed broccoli is in a much better position health wise.
As for protein - again speaking from research and a bit of experience - A vegetarians protein comes from beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and other nut butters...etc. There are a TON of sources for protein outside of meat.
I think the key is "fried" meats. Anything fried is less healthy than its steamed, baked or broiled counterpart. Similarly, battered and deep fried tofu is no better than a piece of fried chicken (well the tofu is, but the frying in both cases is not the healthiest).
Hope this helps